World Gone By

Written by Dennis Lehane
Review by Eva Ulett

World Gone By is 1940s World War II-era literary crime fiction. Ex-mob boss Joe Coughlin is indispensable to the Italian crime syndicate running south Florida. A legitimate business man with family ties to Cuba, Joe has become a valued consultant to the illegal underworld, a “fixer” in the words of a naval intelligence officer. And so Joe believes, until he learns of a contract for his killing from a desperate lady assassin. That cold killer, Mrs. Del Fresco, is one of many colorful players in what the criminals in World Gone By refer to as “our thing.” Crime as a business and as a way of life has already had costly consequences for Joe Coughlin. He is left to raise a young son alone, after his Cuban wife is caught in the crossfire of Joe’s professional world.

The characters populating this intelligent tale of alliances and retribution run the gamut. From well-dressed, gentlemanly Joe Coughlin, to an evil gangster called King Lucius, who after slitting the throat of an associate tells Joe, “Yet, under the watchful eyes of God… I thrive,” World Gone By is not just a mobster tale, or an involving thriller; it is a story that provides an intense flavor of a time past, a story that delves into the psyches of the individuals who become involved in “our thing.” On this subject Lehane is poetic: “your sins and your sorrows had multiplied so prodigiously you weren’t fit for any other type of life.” If literary crime fiction is not a genre, it should be, with World Gone By as its finest example.