The Given Day

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I became a Dennis Lehane fan via his Kenzie/Gennaro private eye series, set in Boston. But recently he's turned his talents to writing novels more likely to be found outside the "Mystery" section at Barnes & Noble. Which is fine, I can follow him just about anywhere. Unless he decides to write about lady time-travelers or something.

No problem here, though. Lehane sets this novel in mostly in post-WWI Boston. (I assume he has access to a time machine. His prose has the kind of evocative detail that is otherwise inexplicable.) There's a mix-in of historical figures: e. g., Calvin Coolidge, Babe Ruth, John (later, more commonly, "J. Edgar") Hoover, and more. But the action follows mostly two fictional protagonists: white Danny Coughlin and African-American Luther Laurence. The novel plays out against real-life history, and you may have a dim idea of the nastiness involved: a flu epidemic, anarchist violence, a Boston police strike, a deadly molasses flood, and the Babe going to the Yankees.

Speaking of the Boston police, Danny is one, also the son of one. If you think you have a dysfunctional family, odds are Danny's got you beat. His misadventures are legion: a seemingly doomed romance with the domestic help, conflicts with his brothers, father, and (very nasty) godfather, undercover exploits in the anarchist/Bolshevik underground, his attempts to get decent wages and working conditions for his fellow policemen, … most of this accompanied by danger, violence, betrayal, and heartbreak.

Luther doesn't have an easy time of it either. There's the general problem of being a black guy in an openly racist environment. He also makes some bad decisions, which cause him, eventually, to be estranged from his pregnant wife.

This is the first novel in a series of (so far) three. I hope to get to them eventually; even though I don't care much for historical fiction, Lehane makes it work for me. Lehane's politics are relentlessly left-wing—one of his acknowledgments is to that Howard Zinn book—so I had to discount that a tad.