For a crime writer, there is probably no period richer in plot points and possibility than the 1920’s in America.
It was the Jazz Age, when all rules were made to be broken. And by “all” we mean all. Prohibition made drinking illegal but that just meant the speakeasy’s were more clandestine and exciting. Jazz made stars of the underclass, and women no longer felt the need to be proper ladies.
It’s the era that most inspired bestselling author Dennis Lehane, who visited Kobo HQ to talk about his latest novel, Live by Night, set in that decade of decadence and squalor. “The 1920’s to me is the sexiest decade America ever had,” said Lehane. “You had an entire country that said as of this moment, we’re going to ignore the law of the land.”
Lehane had to resist the temptation to simply write an homage to the era – fascinating as it is. “You can’t write a whole book about how cool the clothes were, or how fun it must have been to own a tommy gun,” he said. So Lehane dipped into the place where we love him most, where violence and crime and the slippery nature of street morality all combine to create a story compelling enough to keep you up at night.
Prohibition is the backbone of the book, but Lehane said his big “aha!” was to tell the story of rum, rather than the whiskey of Boardwalk Empire or The Untouchables. That led him to an area of Florida that acted as the port through which rum flowed into America, a place left utterly alone by the authorities who were otherwise occupied with what they considered to be the larger problem of bootlegged bourbon.
It was an area and an era fueled by contraband booze and illicit money, where Cuban revolutionaries, radicalized union workers, bootleggers, gangsters, thieves and women were thrown together and left to sort things out for themselves. Lehane describes the steamy, sexy glam of America during Prohibition in Live By Night, and you can watch it here: