I remember when I first read A Drink Before the War and fell in love with the way Dennis Lehane captured the gritty streets of Boston and the gritty lives of Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro. However, as the years went by and Lehane started to leave these characters behind to pursue other stories, I became more sporadic in my reading of him. I read Mystic River and Shutter Island but I had missed two other books that deal with the Coughlin family when I picked up World Gone By.
Luckily, though this book has connections to The Given Day and Live By Night, not having read these books didn’t dampen my engagement in this one. It’s another gritty tale but the setting is Tampa not Boston. It’s 1943 and Joe Coughlin, a former mob boss turned “consigliere” to the Bartola Crime family, is doing well for himself and for the mobsters he advises. World War II, like most wars, is good for business and the mob has their hand in everything. A well-respected figure, Joe walks the line between legitimate businessman and criminal and one of the many things he’s good at is making money. However, he is also a devoted single father to his young son, Tomas. However, Joe’s golden life begins to crumble around the edges after he hears a rumor that someone has put a contract out on him. In his search to discover who and why, Joe must confront his past—a past with a huge body count and many acts of violence.
Maybe it’s because I read a really awful book right before this one, but I was struck by not only how well plotted this novel was but how beautifully Lehane writes. There is violence here but that violence comes at a cost for everyone. Yes, this is a story of gangsters battling for power but Lehane recreates the era with fine detail even as he has Joe Coughlin and others haunted, literally, by ghosts from the past.