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Literature / Live by Night

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A 2012 Roaring Twenties Period Piece by Dennis Lehane. A spinoff of his 2008 novel The Given Day, it's the story of Joe Coughlin, a petty criminal who's the son of a prominent Boston cop; a robbery of local mob boss Albert White's card game leads to an affair with his moll, Emma Gould, until Joe is uncovered after a robbery goes afoul and sent to prison. In prison, he befriends Maso Pescatore, The Don of Boston, and once Joe gets out, he's off to Florida to oversee Maso's operation there, where he falls in with Cuban revolutionaries, goes up against the Klan, and generally rises up the ladder of organized crime.

In 2015 it's sequel World Gone By was published following Joe in Florida in the 1940s.

A movie based on the book came out in 2016, directed by and starring Ben Affleck.

Contains examples of:

  • The Ace: Esteban Suarez, Joe's Tampa supplier. He's a lawyer, a restaurateur, a skilled photographer AND a champion dancer. Joe openly wonders what he doesn't do.
  • Action Girl: Graciela.
  • Ambiguous Situation: We don't know whether Maso was telling the truth about Lucky Luciano deciding that only Italians can hold the top positions, and that was why Joe had to be demoted. During Joe's meeting with him, Luciano says that he tried to talk Maso out of going against Joe, and expresses no problem with Joe being in charge. However, Joe decides to cover his bases by naming Dion as boss of Florida while he stays on as The Consigliere, to which Luciano gives his blessing.
  • Big Brother Instinct: Dion betrays Joe because he knows his affair with Emma has made him a liability, and he feels responsible for his older, but dumber, brother. Toward the end of the book, he calls Joe his brother and professes feeling a similar responsibility for him.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Joe has ridden out Prohibition, gone legitimate and taken out all of his enemies, but at the cost of the love of his life.
  • Broken Bird: Loretta Figgis, a wholesome Girl Next Door and aspiring actress who ends up a heroin addict, recovers and has a Heel–Faith Turn, then loses her faith after the death of her mother.
  • Broken Pedestal: Joe and his father have been growing apart for years, but the discovery that his father was a Dirty Cop is (almost) the straw that broke the camel's back.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • The picture that proves Emma Gould is still alive ends up saving Joe's life.
    • The gun turret in the seaplane.
  • The Cobbler's Children Have No Shoes: Joe is the son of a celebrated policeman.
  • Cruel Mercy: After destroying Albert White's Tampa business, Joe has the chance to kill him and passes it up because he wants him to live in disgrace. This turns out to be a mistake.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Joe and Graciela.
  • Demoted to Extra: Danny Coughlin, Joe's older brother and the hero of The Given Day, only appears in a few scenes.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: A somewhat Anvilicious example when Klansman R.D. Pruitt attributes the Depression to America having "a Communist for a president."
  • The Dreaded: Everybody is terrified of Lucky Luciano, and upon meeting him Joe's lifelong belief that the scariest people are mostly trying to cover up their own fear (which has proven itself true time and again with everyone else he's known) is completely undermined, and Joe swiftly concludes that Luciano doesn't even know what terror feels like.
  • Dude, Where's My Respect?: How Joe feels when Maso shows up in Tampa to tell him non-Italians can't be bosses, so he's giving him a major demotion and replacing him with Maso's idiot son.
  • Equal-Opportunity Evil: Joe is Irish but his gang is almost entirely Italians and Cubans. This earns him a lot of loyalty from a very willing workforce, but is used against him by the openly racist Albert White, and gets him in trouble with the Ku Klux Klan.
  • Everyone Has Standards: Various people on various sides of the law are disgusted by different things or have lines they refuse to cross. For Joe, the realisation that a soldier (who was otherwise shown to be courageous and patriotic) was going to hunt, rape and kill Graciela and didn't see anything wrong with it because of her race prompts him to kill in anger for the only time, and he absolutely refuses to act against the civilian Loretta Figgis even though it costs him a fortune and some respect from his more ruthless colleagues.
  • First Girl Wins: Averted with Emma and Graciela, respectively.
  • Genre Shift: Twice. First it goes from an In Love with the Gangster's Girl story set in the streets of Boston, then a prison drama, then an Only in Florida crime epic.
  • God Before Dogma: The conclusion Loretta Figgis privately comes to.
  • Greed: Dion confronts a shocked and disillusioned Joe with this after saving him from certain death during the Mob War with Maso, forcing him to acknowledge that the only possible explanation for Maso trying to take Tampa from the loyal and highly productive Joe was greed at a completely irrational level.
  • Hellhole Prison: Charlestown Pen.
  • Historical Domain Character: Lucky Luciano makes a brief appearance toward the end.
  • I Just Write the Thing: Lehane has said that Joe Coughlin gaining main character status in Live by Night wasn't intentional so much as discovered by him near the end of writing The Given Day:
    I'd been thinking about doing a gangster book my whole life, but I hadn't been thinking about the specifics of this one until, near the end of writing "The Given Day," I realized, "Oh, I've got my gangster! There he is: the kid, the younger son."
  • In Love with the Gangster's Girl: How Joes' enmity with Albert White started. Both of them admit to each other how stupid it is, but it doesn't solve the problem.
  • Insistent Terminology: Joe is an outlaw, not a gangster, though Joe admits to himself that it becomes a stupid pretense as the novel continues.
  • I Own This Town: Joe claims Tampa is his town and subsequently proves it beyond any doubt during his short and decisive war with Maso.
  • Kick The Son Of A Bitch: Joe informs Maso that his son is dead and declares he never wanted him to be his father, before shooting him through the throat.
  • Like a Son to Me: Maso tells Joe that he was the son Maso wishes he had. Joe's response is detailed in Kick The Son Of A Bitch above.
  • Love Makes You Stupid: Joe with Emma.
    • Parental version with Maso and his idiot son Digger; his attempt to put his own son in charge of Florida while everybody knows him to be totally incompetent leads him into a pointless war with Joe and many of his own gang switching sides, since Maso can no longer be trusted as leader after such a terrible decision.
  • Mob War: First between the Hickey and White organizations, then between White and the Pescatore family, and then a very short, bordering on Single-Stroke Battle version between Pescatore and Joe.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: When Joe is mistakenly believed to have killed three cops, Thomas has the Boston PD give him a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown to within an inch of his life. He regrets it almost immediately.
  • Neighborhood-Friendly Gangsters: Joe and Graciela, once they're established in Ybor City, are philanthropists and pillars of the community.
  • The Old Convict: Maso is this when Joe first meets him in prison.
  • Only in Florida
  • Smug Snake: Albert White, RD Pruitt and Gary L. Smith, the crooked distributor Joe runs out of town.
    • Maso's idiot son Digger may take the cake, however, as all these other examples are at least reasonably competent in their fields and are simply outsmarted by Joe, while Digger is so utterly useless that Maso's most loyal soldiers all join up with Joe simply because the alternative would be working under Digger, while remaining totally oblivious of the fact. Joe notes this seems to happen a lot; he's met a fair number of sons of bigshot gangsters, and every single one of them has been "an embarrassment to the human race".
  • Put on a Bus to Hell: Connor, the middle Coughlin son who was blinded in The Given Day, has gone from a promising young attorney to a janitor at a halfway house thanks to his disability.
  • Stepford Suburbia: Joe's upbringing.
    When a woman once asked Joe how he could come from such a magnificent home and such a good family and still become a gangster, Joe's answer was two-pronged: (a) he wasn't a gangster, he was an outlaw; (b) he came from a magnificent house not a magnificent home.
  • Time Skip: Begins 7 years after The Given Day, which introduced the characters of Joe and Thomas Coughlin.
  • Welcome Back, Traitor: Dion Bartolo betrays Joe to Albert, because he thinks Joe's infatuation with Emma is going to get them killed. When he explains this to Joe, Joe forgives him. Dion and Joe use this to their advantage later on by having Dion pretend to betray him to Albert again.
  • Would Not Shoot a Civilian: Joe refuses to have Loretta Figgis killed when her Activist-Fundamentalist Antics sink his casino venture, both because it would make her a martyr and because he doesn't believe in killing threats to his business unless they're criminals as well.
  • Ungrateful Bastard: Both Maso and Joe think this of each other when he comes to Tampa to demote Joe and put his idiot son in charge; Maso thinks Joe should accept the demotion with a smile because everything he has comes because Maso let him run Florida, and Joe thinks Maso should show more appreciation for Joe quintupling his profits from Florida.
  • Villain Ball: When Maso tries to have Joe killed, he leaves Albert to do it; because of Joe's picture of Emma, Joe is able to escape. If Maso had killed him himself, or had absolutely anyone else kill him, he would have succeeded.