What links actor James Cagney and author Dennis Lehane? I always thought they both had typical Irish faces, but there is more than that. In a recent magazine interview about his latest book, Live by Night, Lehane explained it was the easiest book he’s written. Main character Joe Coughlin is a bootlegger who first appeared in Lehane’s prior novel Given Day, about Boston’s 1919 police strike and the flu epidemic. The character he created intrigued him and drove him to expand on Coughlin.
What’s the connection to Cagney? Lehane grew up watching Cagney movies- the gangster genre became a favorite. Cagney’s persona of a tough guy who gave no quarter exploded on the screen in Public Enemy, Angels with Dirty Faces, Roaring Twenties, White Heat, and Love me or Leave Me. Lehane relished the characterization and put it to good use in his historical fiction.