Seven years after the events of Live By Night, Dennis Lehane’s World Gone By picks up as Joe Coughlin settles into a position acting as a bridge between the criminal underworld and high society. Coughlin makes a lot of people a lot of money, which means a lot of people are very happy – so why has a hit been ordered on him?
Over the past few years, Dennis Lehane has slowly crept into Lawrence Block territory for me in that he’s quickly becoming one of my favorite living crime writers (although, I’m not sure Block has written a book I disliked as strongly as Since We Fell – but that’s neither here nor there).
World Gone By weaves a rich tapestry of characters and settings. All the major players are interconnected through alliances and rivalries that consistently raise the stakes based on actions by outside forces. Joe is put through the wringer as he tries to nail down the person responsible for offering up a contract on his life. He becomes so stressed during the ordeal that he hallucinates regularly, adding another layer of complexity upon his predicament. Despite this, he’s a hard character to have sympathy for. While Joe’s relationship with his ten year old son certainly lightens his character, Lehane won’t let you forget just how little empathy Joe has for others and isn’t shy about showing the more ruthless side of the self-made gangster.
There’s more than enough gangland politics and violence in here to satisfy ardent Lehane fans. Some scenes – one in particular involving a tense standoff between two foes at a kitchen table – were so intense I caught myself speed reading. Although it is not as strong as its predecessor Live By Night, World Gone By is a great conclusion (if he so chooses to conclude here) to his Coughlin series that began with a sprawling epic defining post-War American life in the early twentieth century – The Given Day. Lehane has noted in past interviews that he views this as less of a trilogy and more a group of three standalone novels that are connected through a family bloodline. I suppose that’s true – Joe is barely a character in the first novel while Joe’s older brothers are seldom mentioned in the later books, so it isn’t exactly linear. Either way, I wouldn’t read any of these books without reading the others. It’s an intricate story that I feel requires all three books be read in order.
With a particularly haunting ending, World Gone By provides a good finish line for the series, although I would not be against a continuation should he choose to do so. Any subsequent sequels or spin offs would likely be very different. Along with his Kenzie & Gennaro series, Dennis Lehane has ownership of two of my favorite modern crime sagas out there.