Author Dennis Lehane's new book follows Joe Coughlin into middle age.

Credit: DennisLehane.com

Dennis Lehane On His Newest Book And Missing Boston's Attitude

March 13, 2015

Dennis Lehane's gripping books are the things Hollywood movies are made of: "Mystic River," "Shutter Island," "Gone Baby Gone." Now, Lehane has a new book out, "World Gone By."  

JIM BRAUDE: So Joe Coughlin’s back, gangster son of a Boston cop. We met him as a little boy and as twenty-something. And now he’s in another place, another frame of his life. What is he doing?

DENNIS LEHANE: He’s 37 now, in the time period 1943, would have been middle age.

He is a widower with a 10-year-old son, and he is supposedly retired, but really he is an adviser to the Tampa mafia, but he’s also this sort of bridge between them and the upper echelons of Tampa society. He moves in and out with great ease and fluidity between the two.

BRAUDE: I only started this book last night, so I don't know if I am allowed to ask this question or even if I finished I could ask this question: Is this the end of Joe Coughlin?

LEHANE: I don't know. I don't know if this is the capper to the whole thing. I know that I’m on to the next book and it has nothing to do with the Coughlins or the Lawrences or any of the people I started with.

BRAUDE: So when you spend seven years of your life, give or take, with this guy. I mean this sincerely, is it hard to give him up?

LEHANE: No, you’re usually sick of him. I wasn’t really too sick of him, but I was like, OK, it's time to—he needs a rest. You know, I need a rest from—

BRAUDE: You don't feel like he is a part of you?

LEHANE: I do.

BRAUDE: But you are sick of him?

LEHANE: No, I just sort of, like, It’s OK; I can put him on the bench for a little bit, you know? Let's take a break.

"I'm thinking about Boston all the time."

BRAUDE: Most people think—we were talking before you came on—most people think your name is Dennis Lehane. I saw your birth certificate; it says “Dorchester’s Own Dennis Lehane.”

BRUADE: How do you deal with this? You’re a Santa Monica kid now? Every one of your bios says born and raised, and I know how important it is to you. How hard is this to be a California guy when you are a Dorchester kid?

LEHANE: It’s really strange I’m not sure. I'm not there yet, I tell you that. My kids, they love it.

BRAUDE: Like an outvoted kind of thing?

LEHANE: I was outvoted; I was outgunned, and I have a lot of work there, so it made no fiscal sense for me to say to my family, let's go back to Boston, and I’ll just be a novelist because I am getting so much work.

BRAUDE: “Gone Baby Gone,” “Mystic River,” all these Boston-centric things, could you have written them if you did not live here?

LEHANE: Oh, yeah, because I think you write better when you are homesick. I wrote “A Drink Before the War,” my first book, when I was unbelievably homesick I was in Florida. I do well. I've gone back, and the next book is set in Boston. I’m writing it from California. I'm thinking about Boston all the time.

BRAUDE: What do you miss most about the city?

LEHANE: Attitude. I miss this dry sense of humor. I miss the, you-hit-the-joke-and-you-keep-walking. I miss it all. It is really tough for me. I mean, cry me a river: I am in a beautiful place doing well for myself; my family is very happy.

BRAUDE: “Boardwalk Empire,” movies, a ton of stuff.

LEHANE: There is a lot of stuff in development right now. But, having said that, I came home, and I literally got off the Acela at Back Bay and walked out, and damn I miss it.

BRAUDE: You wrote a piece that was one of the most powerful ones that appeared after the Marathon bombing, “Messing with the Wrong City” for the New York Times. Last paragraph: “Boston took a punch on Monday — two of them, actually — that left it staggering for a bit. Flesh proved vulnerable, as flesh is wont to do, but the spirit merely trembled before recasting itself into something stronger than any bomb or rage.” Now we’re reliving the things in the courthouse the Moakley Courthouse. Is the same thing true about Boston years later?

LEHANE: I think it’s true. The thing I find really fascinating about the whole case is I’ve never met a single person from here who refers to them as terrorists, not one. It doesn't seem like a terrorist act; it seems like a stupid, homicidal act by a couple of knuckleheads. But we don't even deign to give them that level of dignity.

BRAUDE: And obviously the answer is you like that.

LEHANE: I love that about this. It's like we are not impressed. I kind of dig that.

BRAUDE: Do you follow it?

LEHANE: I do; I've been following it a lot.

BRAUDE: For those who are writing, it would have been a lot better had the government accepted the offer to plead guilty and sentence him to life in prison without parole and then have victim statements to get this over. Do they have your support? Are they right?

LEHANE: I haven’t given that too much thought, so I don't feel comfortable commenting on that; I’d have to process that. Intellectually speaking, part of me says yes. I would have to ask myself, and we don't have the time to do it right now, I would have to ask myself, what is gained by him being on trial everyday? I asked that when I they published the note the other day: What are we getting, insight in to a psyche, but is it a terribly interesting psyche?

BRAUDE: It’s great to have you back in town.

LEHANE: Thank you.

BRAUDE: One of the great writers of our time, Dorchester’s own.


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