Sunday, August 23, 2015

Review: "World Gone By" by Dennis Lehane

I have been a Dennis Lehane fan for such a long time, and I have yet to read any of his books that failed to be exciting, engaging and thought provoking. But nothing compares to his Coughlin trilogy, beginning with the massive novel The Given Day, following that with the violent and tragic Live By night, and he concludes this wonderful trilogy with World Gone By, what I feel is his saddest, most haunting book to date. It sounds cliché, but to classify Lehane as a simple crime novelist seems like move to pigeonhole him into one genre. From what I have read of his, he juggles all sorts of feelings in his book, not just mystery and intrigue (although there is a lot of that in his books). The central themes in his work are violence, what are its roots and what causes it, and the feelings of men and women who find themselves choosing it when all other options have faded away. The crime genre is simply the framework he uses to tell such stories. He’s a great writer as well, writing dialogue that is crisp, natural and funny without any kind of overly dramatic flourish, and they way he divulges character’s inner thoughts and feelings is disarming and poetic, but never seems out of reach when it comes the characters level of intelligence or experience. Simply put, I think he is one of the best American writers of today, and this book is one of his best. It begins almost ten years after the first book ended (so spoilers if you haven’t read Live By Night). Joe Coughlin is still mourning with the death of his great love Graciela, and is struggling to raise his only son, Tomas. It is really hard to do both when you are one of the key members of Lucky Luciano’s Commission, and a right hand man to guys like Meyer Lansky. Joe has hands in making money not just in Tampa but in Cuba as well, and is a major asset to the criminal underworld in America, despite his Irish ancestry. That is what scares him when he hears through an unlikely source that there is a hit put out on him, scheduled to take place on Ash Wednesday. Joe struggles over the week preceding the holiday to find out who wants him dead an why, all the while dealing with literal ghosts from his past that may or may not be a manifestation of his guilt and fear of the afterlife. Like the other two books in this series, it has some memorable scenes that will stick with you, such as a trip to a houseboat owned by a gangster named King Lucius, whose brutality and short temper are as scary as any horror novel, and just as violent. Also, Tomas is a full-fledged character, smart beyond his years, and fearful of the paths his father taking, and the ghosts Joe is seeing seems trite, but works well, maybe even more so than it did in Shutter Island. Once all is revealed over the last 75 pages, with a final image that is so affecting it made me tear up, I felt the awe, melancholy and exhilaration that only comes with the best of reading experiences. I urge you to check out this whole trilogy of mid-century America, from one of today’s great American treasures.

Rating: 5/5

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