The three books of Dennis Lehane‘s Coughlin trilogy follow an unexpected path in telling three distinct stories that are only loosely connected by a cast of common characters over many years. While ostensibly about one family, the narrative arc of the three books rather connects two brothers (a cop and a gangster) first through their father in The Given Day and then Live By Night. The larger story then pivots to the story of a gangster aiming to get out of the business while losing every semblance of family in Live By Night and World Gone By.
Joe Coughlin, the youngest son of Boston Police Department captain Thomas Coughlin, is the unmitigated star of the books Live By Night and World Gone By. Climbing the corporate ladder of the Italian mob takes Joe from his Irish family in Boston, Massachusetts to Ybor City, Florida near Tampa to Havana, Cuba. The era of Prohibition and illegal booze are the racket. Joe is highly competent, highly profitable, and highly troubled as far as his love interests, loyalty to the family he cultivates in the mob, and functioning a mob syndicate amongst the intrigue of those gunning for him, regardless of his conscience.
(World Gone By)
World Gone By is a clear sequel to Live By Night in tone, style, and subject matter. That The Given Day even existed adds nothing to this tale, as the story looks to tie up loose ends from the story of Live By Night. Joe works as the consigliere to the crime family headed by his former partner Dion Bartolo. Bartolo is the family Joe has, in addition to his son. Joe’s wife, Graciela, was killed at the end of Live By Night. To me, World Gone By is a book length examination of regret, recrimination, and the workings of an author (Lehane) and a mobster (Joe Coughlin) who wanted better for themselves but had to suffer through more story than they could execute. It is an irony that Joe loses his son in the way Thomas Coughlin emotionally loses both of his sons through the trilogy. Joe lost his son by killing Dion. Thomas lost Joe and his other son through different degrees of alienation in the three book trilogy.
(The Given Day, Live By Night, and World Gone By)
Thomas Coughlin appears in Live By Night and the opening book of the series, The Given Day. The Given Day is a historical novel that looks into the stories of two main characters, namely Aiden “Danny” Coughlin of Boston and Luther Laurence, a talented black amateur baseball player from Columbus, Ohio. Their stories intersect in bringing out compelling narrative pitted against the 1919 Boston Police Strike for Danny, the Tulsa Race Riot against Black Wall Street for Luther, the shame that former Red Sox and Yankee baseball player Babe Ruth about the prohibition against blacks in baseball and baseball’s unfair financial structure, and a few other story lines.
In getting into subjects of class tension, racial tension, poverty, economic instability, political corruption, and so much more, The Given Day was an outstanding book of its own accord. That the book incorporates historical events and people so well made for high expectation for the series for me. Live By Night and World Gone By, while not bad and decent reflections of tensions with the story of an upswing of 20th century mob activity in America and Cuba, quite simply places a blemish upon The Given Day by bringing in characters that only tangentially relate to what may be the best accomplishment of Lehane’s writing career. In comparison, these two suffer by bringing less history into their telling. These are statements more for the first book than against the second and third books.
Ben Affleck played Joe Coughlin in the 2016 movie adaptation of the book Live By Night, which of course introduced us to the central question of family and whether a gangster can remain moral. The clear answer is no, though the notion of ethics is strong in the second and third books. World Gone By continued with the fallout of family and the ethical lifestyle, and to a certain respect feels to me like The Godfather: Part III (1990) feels for many who like the Godfather movie franchise…that the first two movies are clearly better. My feel is that I am not clear what fans of Dennis Lehane‘s work received in the third installment of this trilogy of books. More clearly, Live By Night as a standalone book with no relation between Joe, Danny, and Thomas Coughlin would have been best. Having Live By Night exist without World Gone By also would have been good for the Joe Coughlin and Dion Bartolo story.
My personal rating of the book World Gone By is 3.25-stars out of five (5).
Matt – Tuesday, June 12, 2018