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The Given Day
A Novel

by Dennis Lehane

      The year is 1919 in Boston, Massachusetts.  This is a saga of two families caught in the maelstrom of the period.  There are the Coughlins, a lace curtain Irish family headed by a proud and powerful police captain.   His son, Danny, a patrolman, goes undercover to infiltrate the Bolsheviks and anarchists who are recruiting the city's poverty-stricken immigrants.  He finds himself sympathetic to the  immigrants' lives, as their living conditions are all too similar to those of his fellow policemen.  Danny falls in love against social mores with Nora, the Irish immigrant maid who has a secret past.  His love is complicated  by the fact that his brother, Connor, is also is love with Nora.

The other family is that of Luther Lawrence, a talented black ballplayer who has fled to Boston after killing a drug lord in Tulsa.  Here he becomes entwined with Danny's family, but has to fight discrimination and racial prejudice and the racist cop who is out to destroy him.

The Given Day is a definite departure from Lehane's usual mystery novels.  This is a historic epic, bringing to life a turbulent period in the history of the United States. It is a tale of tragedy, hope, betrayal, love and the conflicts of human nature.

There is a panorama of social tensions, immigration, political corruption, anarchy and, yes, love and jealousy and personal greed.  In addition to the well defined characters of Danny and the Coughlin family and their friends, along with the Lawrence family, there are glimpses of historic personalities: Babe Ruth, Calvin Coolidge, Emma Goldman, Eugene O'Neill, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and others.

The research involved is extensive.  The writing is excellent with a cast of true-to-life characters.  The devastation of the Police Strike is described with precision.  The struggle of the working class trying to find decent working conditions and a fair wage is brought to life. Lehane touches on the Volstead Act, which inaugurated Prohibition; on the devastation of the Spanish influenza, which was still raging; on the Black Sox baseball scandal in the World Series; and on many other defining events.

This is a 700-page work of historical fiction which will fascinate and inform the reader. It is not just an engrossing story but also a lesson in history.  You won't want to put the book down once you start the first page.

The Book

William Morrow
September 2008
068163181 / 9780688163181
Historical Fiction / Boston 1919
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The Reviewer

Barbara Buhrer
Reviewed 2009
© 2009