The Given Day, by Dennis Lehane (HarperCollins $27.95) Dennis has truly written a sprawling epic of Boston history here. Set in the North End during the years just after WWI, Danny Coughlin is a beat cop, son of a powerful police Captain, who cannot admit his love for Nora, the starving waif his father brought home from the streets 6 years ago. She is now their housekeeper and engaged to marry the brother his father is angling to become District Attorney. Luther Lawrence, an African American has joined their household staff also, running from a deadly encounter with a Tulsa crime boss. Luther has to keep his past secret, or endanger the pregnant wife he left behind. To pay for his board, Luther has taken a job with the newly formed NAACP, and is rebuilding a wreck of a building for the future headquarters of W.E.B. DuBois.
Danny has been tasked with infiltrating the insurrectionist movements, the commies, the bolshies, and the Unionists fighting for worker and immigrant rights. As he witnesses the hypocrisy of the Boston Police Department in these encounters, and the deprivation of those officers he is drawn to the Boston Social Club's advocacy of clean sleeping quarters, a raise for the first time in 16 years (during a period of 73% inflation) and to end the practice of forcing the men to purchase and maintain their own uniforms. The officers work 83 hour weeks, sleeping in the fetid lice ridden beds at the precinct.
The historical events here are the Spanish Influenza epidemic, the explosion and Molasses flood that has destroyed an area in the North End, and the Policeman's Strike of 1919. Historical figures abound, the Massachusetts governor Calvin Coolidge, and the ambitious Department of Justice lawyer, John Hoover. And did I mention Babe Ruth? Gidge's drinking and perspective from the dissatisfied baseball players give this a bigger narrative.
This 700 page novel is steeped in local lore and is a world you'll hate to leave when it's time to close the book. I couldn't help seeing parallels to our current economic and social issues.
Order The Given Day from Jackson Street Books