MysteryPeople Q&A with Dennis Lehane

Dennis Lehane ‘s latest novel, Live By Night, continues the saga of the Coughlin family begun in his bestseller The Given Day. The youngest Coughlin son Joe, becomes a gangster during the Prohibition era. We had the opportunity to ask Lehane a few question concerning that time period, his writing, and fatherhood.

MYSTERYPEOPLE: What drew you to the Prohibition era?

DENNIS LEHANE: The Roaring 20’s–cool clothes, cool cars, smoky jazz clubs, Tommy guns, women in sequined dresses, and almost the entire population openly disregarding the law of the land.

MP: What I liked about the book is that it delivered everything we read a gangster novel for, under the table dealings, betrayals, Tommy guns, but it never comes off as derivative. What keeps you from being cliche while using the tropes?

DL: Concentrating on rum trafficking, as opposed to whiskey, possibly gave the book a fresh slant on things. I could take the novel to unexpected places like Tampa and Havana as opposed to the places more commonly associated with gangster stories–Chicago, KC, New York, Detroit, etc. As for avoiding the cliches while honoring the tropes, you just have to be conscious of it as you write, I guess. When I write a scene, I keep asking myself, “Have you seen this before?” If the answer is, “Yes,” then I rethink it. If the answer is ,”Yes, but not quite,” then I dig deeper. And if the answer is, “No,” then I write it.

MP: While the book starts out in Boston, most of it takes place in Florida and Cuba. How did  it feel writing outside of your home town?

DL: The Tampa-St. Pete area is a bit more hometown these days because I live there half the year, but I don’t write about present day Florida because it doesn’t really play to my strengths. It lends itself to satire more than anything, something very ably handled by writers like Carl Hiaasen and Tim Dorsey to name just two. But Ybor City–that’s old Florida, very evocative of a world long since gone by. And it’s quite urban and extremely unique, just like Boston. So my comfort level writing about IT was solid. As for Havana, by the time I was winding down the Ybor stuff, I felt dialed-in overall. I could have set that final section anywhere and felt comfortable.

MP: The book ends where began, talking about fathers and their children. It’s a theme that appears in a lot of your books. Has your view of fatherhood changed since you’ve become a parent?

DL: I don’t think my views have changed, but I do think about fatherhood as a construct a lot more. This is probably less because I’m a father and more because I lost mine recently and I think a lot about what he handed down to all his children. I had a great relationship with my old man but even a good father-son relationship is a very complicated thing. You’re a male who sires  a male who looks like you and sounds like you and has your temperament and mannerisms and yet he’s not you; he’s got his own mind, his own damage, very different dreams, perhaps. And what you probably don’t see is how heavy your shadow lies on him and how little he knows how to deal with that weight. And you each make other very anxious, I suspect, whether you realize it or not. The novels with the Coughlins are Father-Son novels; that’s their thematic continuity.

MP: In Books To Die For, you wrote an essay about The Last Good Kiss. What do you hope your own work has that James Crumley’s does?

DL: Breadth, scope, lyricism, passion, you name it. That son-of-a-bitch could write his ass off. Every time I read The Last Good Kiss–and I do so about every 2 years–I want to be a better writer And I want to press it into the hands of everyone I meet and say, “THIS is the great American private eye novel.”

MP: Do you have any further plans for the Coughlin family?

DL: I’m writing the next installment in the saga now. It’s set in 1943 and revolves around Joe and his son, Tomás.

Signed copies of Live by Night are currently available on BookPeople’s shelves and via www.bookpeople.com.

Major New Releases Today

Some big new books hit the shelves today. Here are two we have our eye on.

Phantom by Jo Nesbo

Our Pick of the Month for good reason. As Chris said in his review, “If you are wondering how Phantom stacks up against the other books in the series, I can say with aplomb that it is Nesbo’s best work. Phantom, while smaller in scope than its predecessors, deals with a seemingly simple topic like drug addiction in such a way that it humanizes the petty drug pushers and users that populate the novels 400 pages. In the end we understand their motivations. Whereas a serial killer is always a maladjusted individual with some nagging psychological issues, drug addicts are people with emotional damage trying to escape their reality. Phantom also gives us a better understanding of Harry Hole, who’s long-running struggle with addiction motivates almost every action in his life.”

We do have a limited number of signed copies of Phantom available. Grab a copy in the store or on online via www.bookpeople.com.

Live by Night  by Dennis Lehane

Lehane’s back with his first since The Given Day. One of our booksellers, Spencer, read an early copy and has this review:

“Dennis Lehane’s new novel is, well, awesome! Its action-packed storyline keeps the reader’s heart racing from beginning to end, and with every twist and turn comes more suspense, more adrenaline, more everything you could possibly want in this Scarface meets Road to Perdition gangster novel. Set in Prohibition era Boston and Florida, Live By Night is the story of Joe Coughlin, a rough and tumble outlaw who goes from petty robber to the king of Florida’s illicit rum trade. He slowly builds his empire while taking out the competition, dodging bullets, consolidating power and protecting a community terrorized by the Ku Klux Klan and rival gangs. There’s love, there’s surviving prison, there’s bribery and corruption, there’s even a failed Hollywood starlet turned fanatic proselyte who almost single-handedly derails Joe’s entire operation through Revival-style fire and brimstone. What Lehane does exceptionally well is remain historically accurate, or at least plausible. He has done his homework, and really places the reader back in 1920s and ’30s America, lending the sense that you are actually there. It’s the little things that all add up to a great story, like the comment that a Cuban makes to Joe about his optimism for Fulgencio Batista’s new government. Hindsight is 20-20 when we look back on history, but Lehane makes sure – in Joe’s terms – to pistol whip some sense into us, and puts things in perspective based on how people in the 1920s and 30s saw the world. This was a great book, not just for its entertainment value, but also its detail and creativity.”

Live by Night is also on the shelf here and online at www.bookpeople.com.

Review: BLOODLINE by James Rollins


I read that James Rollins grew up on Doc Savage, the bronze tinted pulp hero of brains and brawn who trotted the globe fighting some very weird forms of evil with a group of eccentric specialists. In reading his latest Sigma Force book, Bloodline, it comes as no surprise. Rollins has created the the closest thing there is to modern pulp (and that’s absolutely a compliment.)

Rollins introduces us to two events right off the bat. One takes place in the year 1134 with a female member of The Knights Templar as she comes to the bloody end of a quest. The other brings us up to the present as an assassin prepares to take out the President in four days. The killer is Sigma Team commander Grey Pierce.

We are then plunged into a Sigma Force mission. Somali pirates have kidnapped the President’s daughter. It’s up to Pierce and his soldiers trained in various scientific disciplines to rescue her before her identity is discovered. To help track her down they take on Captain Tucker Wayne, his army dog Kane , and a former Somali pirate.

While this would be enough for one story, it’s just the first third. It’s not long before we’re dealing with killer robots, evil scientists, and a centuries long conspiracy involving the secret to immortality.

Rollins never lets these fantastic elements become over the top or cheesey. He creates a bed of actual science, history, theory, and traditional legend for them to grow from. He also gives his characters real problems outside of their work such as Grey having to deal with his father’s Alzheimer’s.

That said, Rollins is in the business of providing wonder and adventure. His characters are colorful, locations exotic, and his writing has a smooth visceral feel I really enjoyed.

MysteryPeople welcomes James Rollins to BookPeople to speak about and sign Bloodline on Saturday, June 30 at 5pm.

Holy Exploding Pineapples, Batman!

Just came across the book trailer for Pineapple Grenade, the latest Tim Dorsey thriller starring Florida serial killer Serge Storms. Take a look:

That’s one powerful pineapple. We’re going to have to counter with an equally powerful Pineapple Grenade Punch when Dorsey’s here next month. A little Tito’s, a little pineapple juice, a little club soda. I’m feeling inspired.

Pineapple Grenade is on the shelves now. Publisher’s Weekly has a delightful review, saying, “…neither Dorsey’s fast-paced prose nor his delight in skewering human foolishness has lost its mischievous sparkle.” And whoever authored the Kirkus review is clearly a long time fan: “Don’t (rival CIA supervisors) realize that Serge belongs to no man, having dedicated himself wholly to Truth, Justice and Florida Trivia?”

Personally, I love this cover. The orange really pops out at you on the shelf. The book just looks like a good time. Which has me excited for Dorsey’s visit. Between the video and the book cover, I’m thinking a shopping trip for a Hawaiian shirt is in order.