Consider the mobster: a fedora, rakishly cocked. A pinstripe suit. A tommy gun. A man above the law, bound instead by family and esoteric honor, sworn enemy to stoolies and rats. Dennis Lehane trades on these tropes — some might say clichés — in his latest novel, “Live by Night,” the second installment in his trilogy about the Coughlins, an Irish family of lawmen living in Boston at the turn of the century. This volume centers on Joe, the baby, who defies his police chief father for a life of crime.
Joe sets off on his remarkable career setting fire to newspaper boxes for profit. Under the tutelage of a mob boss named Hickey, he branches out into armed robbery, rum running, and enforcement. His troubles begin when he meets a slinky dame from Charlestown named Emma Gould, who just happens to be the mistress of Hickey’s rival, Albert White. Joe pulls an unsanctioned bank job so he can run away with Emma, thus setting in motion a chain of events that will affect his life’s course for the next decade — the duration of the book — taking him out of Boston to the Tampa outpost of Ybor City.