Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Book Review: A Drink Before The War by Dennis Lehane

Title: A Drink Before The War
Author: Dennis Lehane
Publisher: Harcourt
Publication Date: November 1994
Source: Personal purchase

Summary from Goodreads:

Kenzie and Gennaro are private investigators in the blue-collar neighborhoods and ghettos of South Boston-they know it as only natives can. Working out of an old church belfry, Kenzie and Gennaro take on a seemingly simple assignment for a prominent politician: to uncover the whereabouts of Jenna Angeline, a black cleaning woman who has allegedly stolen confidential state documents. Finding Jenna, however, is easy compared to staying alive once they've got her. The investigation escalates, implicating members of Jenna's family and rival gang leaders while uncovering extortion, assassination, and child prostitution extending from bombed-out ghetto streets to the highest levels of government. 

My Review:
As mentioned previously, I am going to a Dennis Lehane reading/signing at my library on 9/24 (SQUEEEEE), so I wanted to read at least one more of his novels before the event.  I read Shutter Island a couple of years ago, which I can only describe as amazeballs, so I had high hopes for his other work too.

A Drink Before The War is actually the first in a series of novels Lehane has written around private investigators Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro.  If you've seen the movie Gone, Baby, Gone, that was a later book in the Kenzie/Gennaro series.  This book is narrated by Kenzie, and I was immediately a huge fan of his voice.  It was basically like every guy from Good Will Hunting and The Departed got together and wrote his dialogue.  Lehane doesn't emphasize the Boston accent, but you can hear it in your head as you read.  Kenzie is the perfect Boston blend of sarcastic, funny, and crass.  (Trust me, I'm a Yankee fan who constantly gets heckled by Bostonians--I know what that sounds like.)  His POV is what sets this apart from your typical crime novel.

As for the plot--it does have a lot of what you'd consider to be the "cliched" parts of a P.I. crime story.  Two partners who often clash, crazy gunfights in broad daylight, run-ins with the cops...nothing out of the ordinary.  The real twist towards the end is probably something you could see coming (though oblivious me, who never properly guesses the ending to ANYTHING, was surprised).  If this story was just about the action, it wouldn't be anything special.

However, Lehane also wraps in a lot of issues concerning race and power, which adds a different dimension to it all.  He makes a valiant effort to illustrate the racial tension in blue-collar Boston in the early 1990's, and this bit of sociological perspective heightens the typical good guy/bad guy story line.  He also shows us how many of the characters (black and white) think through their own feelings on race throughout the novel.  This, paired with Kenzie's unique voice, is what made this more than the average thriller for me.

Overall?  If you're into crime stories, mysteries, and thrillers, this will be right up your alley.  And if you like those genres but find them too cliched, I'd still suggest giving this a try--because while it has some of that, I think it also brings something new to the table.  I'm definitely looking forward to more Kenzie and Gennaro!

(Plus?  It takes place in 1994.  The references to cassette tapes, boom boxes, high top fades, and the inability to Google anything are priceless.)


  1. This is my favourite genre so I should try it. I figured out the twist in Shutter Island so I wasn't as impressed as most but he is good.

  2. This sounds like something I'd like but hadn't heard of -- thanks!

    Joy's Book Blog

  3. LOL! A mystery story set in 1994? That's got to be hard to read. I'd be like 'google that guy already!'.

    1. Yeah, someone goes missing and you're like, "track that cell phone, yo!" Ha.

  4. You are so lucky to go to a book event with Dennis Lehane! I've read everything he's written. A Drink Before The War
    is one of his best, but they're all great.


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