Wednesday, March 18, 2015

World Gone By by Dennis Lehane - Book Review




It's been a pleasure watching Dennis Lehane grow as a writer through the past two decades. I first picked up his work in the Kinsey-Genarro series of detective mysteries in the late nineties as this smart couple attacked crime in the Boston area, with particular attention to Dorchester. Then, with Shutter Island and Mystic River his writing, while still involved with the neighborhood, family, and organized crime began to take on a greater seriousness and attract wider attention. Both were turned into successful films with Mystic River winning or nominated for several Academy Awards while Shutter Island became the highest grossing Martin Scorsese film up to that time. The Given Day placed Lehane in a new category as a writer of a large concept historical novel set in Boston during the post World War I period of the 1919 influenza epidemic and the Boston police riots. In scope and ambition this large novel following several families attacks issues of ethnicity, race, corruption, and family that are also found in World Gone By (William Morrow/Harper Collins, 2015, 320 pages, $27.99/12.99). Lehane's ever-widening world view and willingness to take on new challenges of style and scope place this book way beyond crime fiction as a genre and further establish Dennis Lehane as a superb literary stylist while always remaining a first-rate story teller.

While World Gone By is characterized as the final book in the Joe Coughlin trilogy, I saw only traces of the previous world built in The Given Day while I somehow missed Live By Night entirely. Though I'm usually acutely aware, as a reader, that I'm picking up a series in the middle, World Gone By is a fully realized stand-alone novel set in the Tampa, FL during the midst of World War II. I didn't read the book as genre fiction, as a crime novel, but rather as an allegory exploring the effects of a life of violent crime upon family, self-awareness, relationships, as well as personal and societal ethics. As with The Given Day. the novel places its characters in a time when the vast social changes wrought by war are coming home to rest in one notoriously infested city, Tampa. Coughlin, though still a young man in his early forties, has retired as boss of the Bartolo crime family to which he has risen on merit despite not being Italian. He's consistently portrayed as a person who is well-loved because of his humor, intelligence, resourcefulness, and danger. A loving father and friend, he is also a cold-blooded, remorseless killer. Lehane's ability to move seamlessly from intimate family settings to the most violent encounters reflecting the ebb and flow of power within “our thing” are part of the delight and horror of reading this book. As the story unwinds, the effects of this life take on a metaphysical awareness in Coughlin's life as his existence is increasingly haunted with ghosts from his past. While the name isn't there, it's quite clear the PTSD is much on Lehane's mind.

Theresa del Fresco, a vicious contract killer, has been given an incredible deal by Tampa's DA, sending her to jail for five years. Within hours of boarding the transport vehicle to Raiford prison, she twice has to defend herself against murder attempts. She reaches out to former boss Coughlin with a name that instantly draws him to a meeting with her in prison, where she reveals to him, in exchange for a favor, that he himself is the target of a contract to be executed on Ash Wednesday, less than two weeks away. With danger increasing each day, Coughlin meets with a rival mob boss on a river boat on the Peace River, journeys to Cuba, and forces a rival black gang member, with the wonderful name of Mantooth Dix, to commit suicide by attacking his rivals. Coughlin, because of his charm and danger, can move easily between various elements of Tampa's political, social, criminal, and economic world, while his life seems to be unthreatened, he's increasingly beset by the anxiety his search for the hidden enemy engenders in him as Ash Wednesday approaches. His concerns settle on his beloved young son, Tomas. Themes of love, loss, family, loyalty, power, influence, and change interweave in this complex yet extremely satisfying novel.

It's been a pleasure watching Dennis Lehane grow as a writer through the past two decades. I first picked up his work in the Kinsey-Genarro series of detective mysteries in the late nineties as this smart couple attacked crime in the Boston area, with particular attention to Dorchester. Then, with Shutter Island and Mystic River his writing, while still involved with the neighborhood, family, and organized crime began to take on a greater seriousness and attract wider attention. Both were turned into successful films with Mystic River winning or nominated for several Academy Awards while Shutter Island became the highest grossing Martin Scorsese film up to that time. The Given Day placed Lehane in a new category as a writer of a large concept historical novel set in Boston during the post World War I period of the 1919 influenza epidemic and the Boston police riots. In scope and ambition this large novel following several families attacks issues of ethnicity, race, corruption, and family that are also found in World Gone By (William Morrow/Harper Collins, 2015, 320 pages, $27.99/12.99). Lehane's ever-widening world view and willingness to take on new challenges of style and scope place this book way beyond crime fiction as a genre and further establish Dennis Lehane as a superb literary stylist while always remaining a first-rate story teller.

While World Gone By is characterized as the final book in the Joe Coughlin trilogy, I saw only traces of the previous world built in The Given Day while I somehow missed Live By Night entirely. Though I'm usually acutely aware, as a reader, that I'm picking up a series in the middle, World Gone By is a fully realized stand-alone novel set in the Tampa, FL during the midst of World War II. I didn't read the book as genre fiction, as a crime novel, but rather as an allegory exploring the effects of a life of violent crime upon family, self-awareness, relationships, as well as personal and societal ethics. As with The Given Day. the novel places its characters in a time when the vast social changes wrought by war are coming home to rest in one notoriously infested city, Tampa. Coughlin, though still a young man in his early forties, has retired as boss of the Bartolo crime family to which he has risen on merit despite not being Italian. He's consistently portrayed as a person who is well-loved because of his humor, intelligence, resourcefulness, and danger. A loving father and friend, he is also a cold-blooded, remorseless killer. Lehane's ability to move seamlessly from intimate family settings to the most violent encounters reflecting the ebb and flow of power within “our thing” are part of the delight and horror of reading this book. As the story unwinds, the effects of this life take on a metaphysical awareness in Coughlin's life as his existence is increasingly haunted with ghosts from his past. While the name isn't there, it's quite clear the PTSD is much on Lehane's mind.

Theresa del Fresco, a vicious contract killer, has been given an incredible deal by Tampa's DA, sending her to jail for five years. Within hours of boarding the transport vehicle to Raiford prison, she twice has to defend herself against murder attempts. She reaches out to former boss Coughlin with a name that instantly draws him to a meeting with her in prison, where she reveals to him, in exchange for a favor, that he himself is the target of a contract to be executed on Ash Wednesday, less than two weeks away. With danger increasing each day, Coughlin meets with a rival mob boss on a river boat on the Peace River, journeys to Cuba, and forces a rival black gang member, with the wonderful name of Mantooth Dix, to commit suicide by attacking his rivals. Coughlin, because of his charm and danger, can move easily between various elements of Tampa's political, social, criminal, and economic world, while his life seems to be unthreatened, he's increasingly beset by the anxiety his search for the hidden enemy engenders in him as Ash Wednesday approaches. His concerns settle on his beloved young son, Tomas. Themes of love, loss, family, loyalty, power, influence, and change interweave in this complex yet extremely satisfying novel.

Dennis Lehane was born in the Dorchester section of Boston, a predominantly Irish neighborhood. He graduated from Boston College High School (a Jesuit prep school), Eckherd College in St. Petersburg, FL and the writing program at Florida International University in Miami. He has published nine novels, many of which have been best sellers and written for major television shows like The Wire as well as serving as a technical adviser for HBO's Boardwalk Empire. His writing has stayed pretty close to home, largely writing about Boston and Florida. His books have been widely acclaimed, winning many awards. Lehane teaches writing at several colleges and writing workshops. He and his family alternate between living in Massachusetts and California.

Dennis Lehane's World Gone By (William Morrow/Harper Collins, 2015, 320 pages, $27.99/12.99) is a riveting novel set largely in the Tampa of 1943, when World War II was at its height. It completes the trilogy of books containing the character Joe Coughlin, although it is a completely satisfactory stand alone novel. The riveting narrative picks up pace quickly and forces the reader to keep reading. For me, as happens with the best novels I read, the dramatic tension becomes so great I was forced, at times, to put it down and cool off. Lehane continues on his track of elevating crime fiction beyond simple genre writing for consumers of such stuff and lifting it into the rarefied air of real literature. He joins writers like George Peleconose and the best of Elmore Leonard in this effort. I recommend this book without reservation. World Gone By was supplied to me by the publisher through TLC Book Tours. I read it in a trade paperback edition.

Dennis Lehane


Dennis Lehane was born in the Dorchester section of Boston, a predominantly Irish neighborhood. He graduated from Boston College High School (a Jesuit prep school), Eckherd College in St. Petersburg, FL and the writing program at Florida International University in Miami. He has published nine novels, many of which have been best sellers and written for major television shows like The Wire as well as serving as a technical adviser for HBO's Boardwalk Empire. His writing has stayed pretty close to home, largely writing about Boston and Florida. His books have been widely acclaimed, winning many awards. Lehane teaches writing at several colleges and writing workshops. He and his family alternate between living in Massachusetts and California.

Dennis Lehane's World Gone By (William Morrow/Harper Collins, 2015, 320 pages, $27.99/12.99) is a riveting novel set largely in the Tampa of 1943, when World War II was at its height. It completes the trilogy of books containing the character Joe Coughlin, although it is a completely satisfactory stand alone novel. The riveting narrative picks up pace quickly and forces the reader to keep reading. For me, as happens with the best novels I read, the dramatic tension becomes so great I was forced, at times, to put it down and cool off. Lehane continues on his track of elevating crime fiction beyond simple genre writing for consumers of such stuff and lifting it into the rarefied air of real literature. He joins writers like George Peleconose and the best of Elmore Leonard in this effort. I recommend this book without reservation. World Gone By was supplied to me by the publisher through TLC Book Tours. I read it in a trade paperback edition.