William Morrow/Harper Collins, $27.99, 309 pages, ISBN 978-0-06-000490-3
Doesn’t it seem that the older we get, the more complicated our lives become . . . and the more complex our lives . . . the more we yearn for the good old days when things ran better, life was somehow easier and more quaint? A cowboy poet named Badger Clark summed it up nicely back in the 1920s when he wrote, . . . As progress toots its mighty horn, and makes your motor buzz, I thanks the Lord I wasn’t born, no later than I was . . . It’s part of a longer piece called The Rancher’s Lament, and one of my favorite stanzas because it expresses something only those who’ve lived a bit can feel. Then too, it might be a great reason why there needs to be a changing of the guard every so often—a reason for a new group to take over—because they believe in their abilities to run things better than the old team could. It’s a great theme for a novel, because power struggles make awesome dramas.
World Gone By, by Dennis Lehane is the third volume in his rousing examination of the rise of the Italian-American mob, as told through the perspective of a fictional Irish family named Coughlin. The saga begins in Boston, circa 1919 with The Given Day, moves to Tampa, Florida during Prohibition and the Rum Wars in the multiple award-winning Live by Night, and has now been brought full circle in World Gone By.
It’s 1942, World War II is raging and the Italian mob controls all the ports in Florida, as well as one-hundred percent of the state’s trucking business. Joe Coughlin—pushed out of the top spot when the Italians, under the guidance of Charles “Lucky” Luciano and Meyer Lansky, formed a cartel they called The Commission—is now the consigliore to Dion Bartolo, the head of the rapidly expanding Bartolo crime family and a longtime pal of Coughlin’s. Now wealthy beyond his wildest dreams, Joe Coughlin is a single parent, caring for his young son Tomas and enjoying the fruits of his labors. He has a beautiful mistress, a powerful position and the respect of all who know him. Then trouble begins. Rumors start, alleging that a contract has been put out on Coughlin, stipulating he’s to be killed in two weeks, on Ash Wednesday. At the same time, cartel trucks are being hijacked and the crime family suspects that a rat is somewhere in their midst. The stress on Coughlin is so intense, he begins seeing ghosts. His doctor tells Joe it’s stress, he’s perfectly healthy . . . others let him know he has no enemies. So why can’t Joe Coughlin, a crown prince amid the emperors of organized crime, stop looking over his shoulder, as he tries to hear the click of a hammer as someone cocks a loaded pistol aimed at his head . . .
World Gone By is one of the outstanding books of the year, written with unusual panache and hard-boiled style by one of America’s best authors! Don’t miss it.