WW2 was tough on the American mob. The ample criminal opportunities provided by shortages and stressed policing were balanced by the gangs’ own issues – lack of decent manpower, the rise of fierce competition, the gradual erosion of the values which had made the Italian mafia all but invincible.
The Feds are putting the pressure on, and there’s the smell of bloody revolution in the air. The era of prohibition is ending – protection rackets and numbers running are yesterday’s business. Soon the narcotics trade will crown new kings… but not quite yet. Until then, the good ol’ boys still meet on Sundays at church to hear the Catholic sermon, and congratulate young goodfellas on the birth of an heir.
In Florida, 1943, mob man Joe Coughlin has sidestepped the enforcement action and is now consigliere to the powerful local crime family. Without Italian blood, he can rise no further within the mafia – so instead he’s the public face of their more acceptable activities. A deal maker; a negotiator. The someone who knows everyone, who presses the flesh and moves in all the right circles. Joe has seen plenty of brutal action in the past but now he’s found some sort of stability, raising his son and loving his society mistress.
As the title suggests, this cannot last.
Without entirely giving away the story, World Gone By recreates the turmoil and tension encapsulated in The Long Good Friday. It tells the same old story of the lion in winter – as seen in The Winter of Frankie Machine and Galveston – but such is the craft of Dennis Lehane’s storytelling that it seldom strays into cliché and, despite all the odds, you find yourself rooting for Joe as his world implodes around him.
Some reviewers are disappointed by this final chapter in the Joe Coughlin saga. I picked it up first without having read the earlier two (The Given Day, Live By Night) and suffered no such hang-ups. Only after I’d finished World Gone By did I realise that we’d watched the film version of the middle book (starring Ben Affleck; mixed reviews but we thoroughly enjoyed it). I can be slow on the uptake some days. Whatever; my experience suggests that you don’t need to read the first two parts of the trilogy to be transfixed by its conclusion.
After my own disappointment with Lehane’s venture into ‘domestic noir’ (in the shape of Since We Fell), it was wonderful to return to a convincingly constructed, illicit underworld populated with sleazy scoundrels, monstrous, murderous degenerates and – at the core of this story – conflicted killers seeking some sort of moral equilibrium. Redemption may not be on the menu.
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
World Gone By by Dennis Lehane is available in various formats