Thursday 27 October 2016

American nightmare... from author Denis Lehane

The last ­instalment of a Boston-Irish gangster trilogy is a chilling finale to a beautifully realised family saga

Myles McWeeney

Published 10/05/2015 | 02:30

Sean Penn won the Best Actor Oscar for his role in Mystic River, the film version of the book by Dennis Lehane
Sean Penn won the Best Actor Oscar for his role in Mystic River, the film version of the book by Dennis Lehane
Dennis Lehane's World Gone By

This is the third and final book in Dennis Lehane's widely ­acclaimed ­trilogy about fictional ­Boston-Irish gangster, Joseph Coughlin.

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In the previous books, Coughlin defied his upbringing as the son of a Boston Police Captain to become a mob kingpin during the early 1930s Prohibition era. He pays a great personal cost when his Cuban wife is assassinated leaving him with a two-year-old son, Tomás.

Coughlin, once the most feared gangster in America, is now 'retired', and as far as the world is concerned he is a rich and well connected businessman moving effortlessly between Florida and Cuba's social elite, politicians, the police and the mob.

Having stood back from the bloody turf wars between warring Italian mob families, Joe is in the perfect ­position to act as an impartial ­mediator. But when he is told he must arrange to have charismatic black gangster ­Montooth Dix killed in retaliation for the death of two white hoods, Joe delays and sets in train events that disinter the dark secrets of his past leading him to realise that the wages of a lifetime of sin must be paid in full.

Set in the Florida port of Ybor City near Tampa during World War II, World Gone By is a chilling, gripping and ultimately heartbreaking finale to a beautifully realised family saga that exposes the dark and ugly side of the American dream.

The Washington Post has described Dennis Lehane as one of the "most interesting and accomplished American novelists writing today." Notice the absence of any qualifying noun such as 'crime' or 'thriller'.

Lehane is first generation Irish-American. His parents emigrated separately to America in the late 1940s, his mother from Connemara and his father from Clonakilty, Co Cork, and met in Boston.

They married in 1951 and settled in Dorchester, one of the toughest of Boston's suburbs populated mainly by Irish immigrants. His parents were blue collar - his father a supervisor in a Sears department store, his mother a dinner lady in a local High School.

Lehane had a Catholic education from the nuns and Jesuits. "I grew up in 1970s Dorchester, but when I walked through the door of my home it was 1940s Ireland. You could practically smell the peat on the fire," he has said.

He attributes his work ethic and his storytelling skills to his Irish background, going to pubs with his father at weekends and ­listening to his father's friends spinning tall tales and singing songs.

He says that he has no doubt he won the parental lottery in that he had strict but loving parents.

Lehane studied journalism, and later took a creative writing course in a small Florida college which helped him get his first book, A Drink Before the War, published at the age of 29. Apart from some bar-tending jobs when money ran low, writing has been his life since then.

He made his reputation with a series of five books featuring ­conflicted and all too human private detectives Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro, the fourth of which, Gone, Baby, Gone, was filmed to great acclaim by Ben Affleck.

After the fifth instalment of the series, Prayers for Rain, Lehane grew tired of his cash cow, parked the series permanently and wrote Mystic River, the searing and tragic story of three Irish-American boys growing up in Boston.

Clint Eastwood's magisterial film of the book was nominated for six Academy Awards, with Sean Penn and Tim Robbins each winning one, and it catapulted Lehane into the big time.

He has also become involved in writing for film and TV, making high profile script contributions to the ground-breaking TV series The Wire and Boardwalk Empire.


World Gone By

Dennis Lehane

Little Brown, hdbk, 320 pages

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