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World Gone By


World Gone By

The five-year drought for novels from Dennis Lehane ran from 2003, when SHUTTER ISLAND was published, to 2008, when THE GIVEN DAY released. That period seems so remote now. Rumors abounded; some said that Lehane had hit a dry well, while others assured --- nervously --- that he was busy on an epic work that would surpass his instant classic, MYSTIC RIVER. Events since then have demonstrated the latter to be the case, with the publication of the first two volumes in the Joe Coughlin historical crime trilogy, a new installment in his Kenzie & Gennaro series, and 2014’s brilliant THE DROP.

Now we are favored with WORLD GONE BY, the third and best volume in the Coughlin trilogy, which should lay to rest any lingering doubt about Lehane. It is a work of dark and stark genius, an unforgettable tale of grim honor tinged with sorrow.

"So how good is WORLD GONE BY? I read it one sitting, and from beginning to end was transported from 2015 back to 1953 to a reality that still seems more concrete than the one in which I presently live."

WORLD GONE BY begins several years after the conclusion of LIVE BY NIGHT, with a widowed Joe Coughlin living with his seven-year-old son, Tomas, in Ybor City, just northeast of downtown Tampa, Florida. Coughlin is no longer a mob boss, but continues to hold a position of prestige and influence, due primarily to his ability to advise and guide such mob luminaries as Meyer Lansky and the imprisoned Charles Luciano in a manner that increases their fortunes far beyond anything they otherwise might imagine. Coughlin is highly valued as a result, which makes it all the more puzzling when he learns from an unlikely and unexpected source that he has been targeted for extermination by someone in organized crime’s hierarchy for reasons unknown. The hit is supposed to occur on Ash Wednesday, which gives Coughlin eight days to eliminate the threat while hopefully discovering who is behind it.

Those who have read THE GIVEN DAY and LIVE BY NIGHT, the first two volumes in the trilogy, know that Coughlin is not afraid of getting his hands dirty, which he does to varying degrees over the course of WORLD GONE BY. Yet, some instinct warns Coughlin that all is not entirely right, even as his most trusted henchmen, above and below him, urge him to get out of Dodge --- Ybor City, actually --- until the dust settles and the smoke clears. When Ash Wednesday arrives, however, Coughlin’s world rearranges itself yet again into a sequence of stark and bloody tableaus that play out in the finality that only sudden violence can occasion.

Coughlin finds that he must be called to account for his actions. Among his few remaining assets are his ability to think ahead and not resort solely to murder --- though he is not above using the latter, either --- when the opportunity arises. The only question is if he will be able to do enough to extricate himself from the consequences of the life he chose decades before. It might be a matter of too little, too late, as layers of duplicity are slowly scraped away, and the sins and omissions of all, friend and foe alike, are laid bare, as a rough justice comes to call with finality.

So how good is WORLD GONE BY? I read it one sitting, and from beginning to end was transported from 2015 back to 1953 to a reality that still seems more concrete than the one in which I presently live. Let me put it another way: I finished reading the last few pages and felt as if someone on a starless night had hit me over the head with a shovel and pushed me into a deep, deep pit. I’m still falling. It simply doesn’t get any better than this. But please don’t just take my word for it. Buy WORLD GONE BY and read it again and again and again.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on March 13, 2015

World Gone By
by Dennis Lehane