A multilayered, morally ambiguous novel of family, blood and betrayal.
Working against a backdrop of World War II, Lehane continues and perhaps concludes the ambitious series of historical novels that began with the epic sweep of The Given Day (2008) and continued with Live By Night (2012). Almost a decade after the climactic carnage of that second novel, protagonist Joe Coughlin has apparently left the violence of his gangster past behind, mixing easily in the upper echelons of Tampa society, serving behind the scenes as “the fixer for the entire Florida criminal syndicate.” Still a widower and now a devoted father to his young son, he appears to be above the fray, a respected figure without enemies. Yet he’s haunted by the ghost of a young man he can’t quite identify, and he’s threatened by a rumor that someone has threatened a hit on him for reasons unknown. He experiences tension between some of the mob leaders to whom he feels loyal, amid rampant speculation of a rat in the ranks who's skimming and perhaps snitching. He’s also having an affair, one that seems doomed. On the surface, this is a crime novel that adheres to convention, but Coughlin has a depth beyond genre fiction, with a sense of morality and a code of ethics that the life he has chosen frequently puts to the test. As a particularly evil adversary warns him, “You have put a lot of sin out into the world, Joseph. Maybe it’s rolling back in on the tide. Maybe men like us, in order to be men like us, sacrifice peace of mind forever.” While this seems to lack some of the literary ambition of Lehane’s best work, its cumulative thematic power and whip-crack narrative propulsion will enrich the reader’s appreciation past the last page.
On one level, a very moving meditation on fathers and sons; on another, an illumination of character and fate.