I have it pretty good here in ol’ 2016. I work nine to five, Monday to Friday. I have a decent health plan and my job consists of sitting on my ass in front of a computer all day. I get regular raises and if I get sick, I can rest up for a few days until I kick whatever ails me out of my system. The men of the Boston Police Department in the early 20th century didn’t have any of this. They’d be lucky if they were even given time off to sleep let alone enough money to feed their families.
For Dennis Lehane, it started with the Boston Police strike of 1919. The simple thought of an entire police force walking off the job had fascinated him, but as he began digging, The Given Day grew both in size and scope. Lehane included the infamous Spanish Flu outbreak, The Great Molasses Flood of early 1919, and Babe Ruth’s rise to the top of baseball – all of this occurring within a city already struggling to find its identity. As Boston formed into a melting pot of immigrants – both the Irish and Italians leading the forefront – to say that they were all at odds with one another would be a gross understatement. Considering the Irish were often connected to the police department and the Italians closely associated with communism and terrorism, events would occur that would poison the minds of Boston’s residents resulting in widespread racism that would fuel many of the city’s more memorable events.
The Given Day follows three main characters. Danny Coughlin, a young Boston police officer tasked with infiltrating and investigating the Boston Social Club – an unofficial union formed by his fellow officers looking to fight for workers rights; Luther Laurence, a black man who arrives in Boston fleeing from Oklahoma following a botched robbery attempt; and Babe Ruth (do I really need to explain who this is?).
As the plot progresses, all three become linked by the corruption and fear that gripped Beantown. Lehane’s clean, flowing prose is front and center making The Given Day a breezy, but brutal read. Character development is top-notch and I found myself digging in for long reading sessions, desperate to know what horrible thing would hit the city next. That said, the Babe Ruth stuff didn’t do a whole lot for me. Although he wasn’t featured as prominently as the other two characters, I found his story a little jarring and out of place by comparison. Both Danny and Luther’s stories were so gritty, unpredictable and at times unapologetically bleak that Ruth’s story felt like literary padding.
Like Lehane’s signature Kenzie & Gennaro series, The Given Day is about as readable as you can get. Aside from the bits about Ruth, you have a classic crime/historical fiction book that plays like a James Ellroy novel on Ritalin.