“So Long Joe,” Lahane Wraps up His Coughlin Trilogy
A longtime favorite of many, Dennis Lehane, completes his Joseph Coughlin thriller-crime series with the “World Gone By.” His previous two books featuring the Boston-born, Irish cop turned gangster were “The Given Day,” published in 2008, and “Live by Night,” 2012.
Fans have been waiting to find out what happened to Coughlin, after the mobster’s Cuban wife was killed, a murder that spawned revenge and Coughlin’s semi-retirement, a move he made a decade ago.
In “World Gone By” Coughlin has hung up his mob-boss suit and assumed a genteel, yet crooked lifestyle, rubbing shoulders with politicians and the upper crust in Tampa, Fla., making charitable donations, while carrying on a love affair with the mayor’s wife.
Coughlin knows how to make money and fill other’s pockets as well. He appears to be respectable, maintaining a low profile as he wheels and deals during the World War II years. But now someone’s out to get Coughlin, and though he’s a con man, he’s scared — not only for himself but for the safety of his cherished, nearly 10-year-old son, Tomas.
Anxiety riddles his psyche, and bullets fly as one mob boss crosses the other, in a series of bloody encounters. While Coughlin is ruthless, Lehane embodies him with qualities that make him endearing. He’s a mobster with a conscience, who can’t quit looking over his shoulder as he tries to flush out the rat that’s determined to take him down.
“World Gone By” is entertaining. Its strength lies in the personal stories of the mobsters with all their foibles. But the book delves into so many characters that it’s difficult to keep them straight. Still Lehane’s newest is required reading, if only to see what happens to a mobster we can’t help but care about.
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“The Buried Giant,” A Fantasy with Staying Power
Sometimes it’s nice to stretch yourself as a reader, tackle a book outside your preferred genre. That’s the reason I read the fable/fantasy “The Buried Giant,” by British author Kazuo Ishiguro, best known for his novel “The Remains of the Day.”
From the first page of “Giant” I was mesmerized. Ishiguro’s writing is gloriously beautiful, his description of Arthurian England as handsome as the book I held in my hands, a collector-like edition with creamy, heavy-stock paper, and pages tipped in a rich brown that coordinates with the deep, forest-green cover.
The sepia illustration on the end pages serve as a preview of the book’s setting, a landscape a-swirl with paths twining around peaks, an ogre about to enter one, a dragon pictured in its lair nestled in the mountains.
An elderly couple, Axl and Beatrice, follow these paths on a quest to find their son, who went who knows where, who knows when. The couple has a nagging “unnamed loss” that seeps into their brains, an unsettling feeling that descends on them, resulting from a mist that moves over the moors and valleys of the landscape where they live in a warren with others dug into a hillside. All of the inhabitants of the land have ceased to have clear memories of the recent and distant past.
On Axl and Beatrice’s journey, they happen onto a bevy of mysterious characters, and meet three who accompany them, Edwin, a boy ousted from his village, Wistan, a Saxon warrior, and Sir Gawain, an aged knight and cousin of King Arthur, who years before was supposed to slay Querig, a she-dragon whose breath is believed to be causing the mist.
Troubles arise as the little band makes its way, fording streams and climbing mountainous terrain. Wistan and Sir Gawain wish to slay the dragon, and though Axl and Beatrice know this will allow their memories to return, they also fear the past — perhaps it’s better not to remember everything that has happened in their marriage.
“The Buried Giant” will be a book long talked about, a fantasy with staying power about life, love and immortality and whether our memories are a gift, a curse, or both.
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Sharing Hearth and Home with the Whitshanks
Author Anne Tyler returns to familiar territory with “A Spool of Blue Thread,” adding to her list of books about families, the ins and outs, ups and downs of getting along with one another, and not.
At center stage are the Whitshanks. “There was nothing remarkable about the Whitshanks . . . But like most families, they imagined they were special.”
And like many families they have a black sheep. Red and Abby’s wayward child is Denny. He enjoys adding drama to their lives, something his siblings, Amanda and Jeanie, and Stem, an adopted brother, have grown to expect.
Denny floats in and out, eloping in high school, getting married again and having a baby, flitting from job to job, disappearing for long periods. Red and Abby don’t know how to handle him, and his sisters resent the attention he gets.
The years pass and Red and Abby begin to have health issues. Red can’t hear and then he has a minor heart attack. Abby is undergoing changes as well. Her behavior is erratic, and she’s mentally scattered.
When it becomes apparent the couple can’t live alone any longer, and don’t want to give up their home, a decision must be made. Stem, his wife and boys will live with Red and Abby. It may just work, they all think, until Denny throws a fly in the ointment when he shows up unannounced packing a suitcase of resentment.
A bit later in the novel, there’s quite a surprise, a spoiler that won’t be revealed here — just keep reading. There is more angst and wonder ahead as we learn about another Whitshanks couple from years before, Red’s parents, who had quite an unconventional start to their relationship.
“A Spool of Blue Thread” is classic Anne Tyler. She has a way with words, of being able to nail the mundane way couples act in ages-old marriages, the heartache felt when adult children go astray and the love and humor that holds families together despite stress and tragedy.
The Whitshanks might be unremarkable, but they make for a marvelous story.