Given Day, the

Lehane, Dennis

This book was recommended to me by a friend who got so absorbed in reading it, that she called in sick to work to finish it. Since it's 702 pages long, I might have appreciated some more concentrated reading time, as well. I liked the book, where the central plot element is the labor dispute between the Boston Police Department and the city in 1919, pretty well, but was not quite as in love with it as my friend.

The two narrators are Danny Coughlin, a charismatic Boston cop and Luther Laurence, an African-American man on the lam. Other characters in this historical novel include Babe Ruth, John Hoover (as in the future J. Edgar), the heads of the Boston NAACP, various violent anarchists and Bolsheviks, Calvin Coolidge (then MA governor), tons of cops—both crooked and true, and the Great Molasses Flood.

I was so hoping the molasses disaster would make an appearance. They tried to pin it on anarchists, but it was really company negligence.

Although the cast of characters lists Luther Laurence first, it is Danny Coughlin who is better rendered by the author who has covered the Boston cops territory before, including in Mystic River. Still and all, it seems to me that Luther is also accurate and multi-dimensional.

What's really compelling, or maybe confusing for someone who is generally not a big fan of our enemies in blue is having to sympathize with the BPD and their lousy working conditions. (Not just the BPD, btw, the book references labor actions by police in other cities in North America and Europe.) They were working at below the poverty level in a time when 40 hours/week was considered part-time. They worked 70 some-odd hours/week with no overtime or benefits. They also had to pay for their own guns and uniforms, having their pay docked for a new uniform, even when its predecessor was destroyed in the line of duty.


Danny didn't know a soul who had taken the Prohibition bills seriously, even when they'd made it to the floor of the House. It seemed impossible, with all the other shifts going on in the country's fabric, that these prim, self-righteous "don't dos" had a chance. But one morning the whole country woke up to realize that not only did the idiots have a chance, they had a foothold. Gained while everyone else paid attention to what had seemed more important. p.72

"Have you ever noticed that when they need us, they talk about duty, but when we need them, they talk about budgets?" p.75

"The preliminary suspicions that the molasses tank explosion was a terrorist act have been a boon for us. Simply put, this country is sick of terror."
"But the explosion wasn't a terrorist act."
"The rage remains." Finch chuckled. "No one is more surprised than us. We thought the rush to judgment over the molasses flood had killed us. Quite the opposite. People don't want truth, they want certainty." He shrugged. "Or the illusion of it." p.491

Jan 24 2009