World Gone By is a crime and mystery novel from the author Dennis Lehane. The novel is part of Lehane's “Coughlin series” and is set ten years after the events chronicled in the novel, Live By Night (2012). World Gone By focuses on a former crime boss haunted by his past while trying to learn the identity of the people who don't want him to have a future. [HarperCollins sent me a copy of the trade paperback edition of World Gone By, which was released this past January, for review.]
World Gone By finds Joseph “Joe” Coughlin alive and well in 1943, ten years after his enemies killed his wife, Graciela, and destroyed his empire. He is no longer a kingpin. Now, he is consigliore to the Bartolo crime family, traveling between Tampa and Cuba, his wife’s homeland. He is a master businessman and gangster who effortlessly moves through the Tampa, Florida criminal underworlds run by both White men and Black men, as well as the Cuban underworld. Joe's son, Tomás, is growing up and is exceptionally bright and intelligent. Life is good.
Then, Joe receives a summons from Theresa Del Fresco, a thief and contract killer doing time in Raiford State Prison. She claims that someone has ordered a hit on Joe, and she claims to know who the hit man is. Since he is no longer a boss, Joe wonders who would want him dead. If that weren't enough, Joe seems to be haunted. The ghost of a young boy appears on the fringes of Joe's visions and seems to be trying to tell Joe something. It seems that Joe's success cannot protect him from the realities of a gangster's life, and the debts of a lifetime of sin will be paid in full.
THE LOWDOWN: People who have never read one of Lehane's many novels (11 previous, as of this writing) may know his work because some of his novels have been adapted into film. A film adaptation of World Gone By's predecessor, Live By Night, directed by Ben Affleck, will be released later in 2016. Other Lehane-based films include the Oscar-winning Mystic River, the Oscar-nominated Gone, Baby, Gone, and also Shutter Island.
So, if you know these movies, then you know their stories are dark and violent, sometimes with an even darker ending. World Gone By reminds me of the movie Goodfellas, and while it has a darker tone and covers a much shorter time span than the Scorsese film, World Gone By tells a story of gangsters that is just as riveting.
Lehane offers a tale that grows increasingly complex and is populated with great characters. The complexity of the plot reflects Joe Coughlin's profession or lifestyle, one marked by greed, violence, dishonesty, betrayal and delusion. What Joe wants in life often puts him in conflict with his friends, partners, lovers, business associate, etc, although none of them will admit it. Eventually, this clash of greed, lust, and envy creates an intricate web of deceit, so it is difficult not to end up in a bind or to even end up dead.
As for the characters: any character that is featured in more than one of this book's 26 chapters, Lehane gives the readers at least a short but detailed look into his or her's life, past, and ambitions. If a character has a major interaction with Joe, but is only in the novel for the one scene, Lehane opens the book of life on that character. Why? I suspect that Lehane wants to give the reader a good view of the people who populate the world in which Joe Coughlin plies his illicit trade. It is hard not to buy into this narrative when the author opens so many characters to the readers
There is a theme here. Gangsters, those who work as basically gangster support staff, and many of those who provide goods and services to gangsters are fucked-up people, or are at least broken mentally and spiritually. Death, destruction, and, at the very least, ruin are practically the inevitable result of such a life. It is easy to like Joe Coughlin; after all, he is the lead, but Lehane is honest about Joe. By the end, I wondered how reliable a narrator Joe was or even if were at all a reliable narrator
Obviously, I like this book. World Gone By is more than just a gangster novel. The complex way in which he depicts and examines morality is why Dennis Lehane is more than just a crime novelist and why he is so popular and respected. Lehane is an archaeologist, excavating the dark recesses of the American character, while the body is still alive and kicking.
POSSIBLE AUDIENCE: Readers looking for novels by exceptional American authors will want to read Dennis Lehane and travel to a World Gone By.