Book review: World Gone By by Dennis Lehane - crime lord's saga ends
World Gone By
by Dennis Lehane
Dennis Lehane's thrilling trilogy about organised crime in the early 20th century is more than a look at gangsters and their ways.
Without glorifying the illegal, World Gone By examines how crime works on one's soul and what it means to know that the life you've chosen must give way to the next breed of criminals in this, the gripping finale.
World Gone By is also a textbook guide on how to end a series as Lehane smoothly guides his characters and plot to a smooth finish in this trilogy, which began with The Given Day (2008).
The novel picks up the story of Joe Coughlin in 1942, a decade after the events in the Edgar Award-winning Live by Night (2012). Now a widower, Joe has made the transition from a feared gangster to a leader among the criminals in Tampa, Florida, and, to the outside world, a respected businessman who socialises with the mayor and heads several successful charities.
Joe's influence among the strata of the underworld's white, black and Latin criminals and area politicians gives him even more power to hide his illegal activities in plain sight. Then word reaches Joe that there is a contract on his life. His attempts to find the killer - and who initiated the contract - take him through every crevice of his world, both those of gangsters and upstanding citizens.
Lehane balances Joe's devotion to his son, Tomas, with his ruthlessness in dealing with his enemies. Enhancing the complex plot are scenes that show the mob's growth during the second world war, including its clandestine deals with the US government and its influence on the Batista regime in Cuba. Lehane also depicts Florida in the 1940s, when urban sprawl was a fantasy and Ybor City was the district for Tampa's Latin population.
Lehane doesn't make his main character a hero. Joe loves being a gangster, following no rules, even "bringing the beacons of the city into contact with her demons and making it all seem like a lark". He isn't seeking, nor does he want, redemption, but he wouldn't mind some peace of mind.