Daddy Dearest (a review)

A Drink Before the War by Dennis Lehane ★★★

It’s only rarely I rate a crime fiction book higher than three stars, and even rarer that I bother reviewing them. Most books of this genre are a guilty pleasure of mine, much like watching action shows on tv, and only rarely do I find thrillers in which the quality of the writing matches the appeal of the fast-paced plot. Then again, I can’t live on a diet of award-winning literature alone so I do adjust my expectation level as needed… up to a point. This is my second Lehane book; I started with Sacred, the third in the Patrick Kenzie & Angela Gennaro series and this is definitely a case where I wish I’d started chronologically, if only to follow the two main characters’ relationship as it evolves. To sum up the plot without giving too much away: our detective duo is hired by two powerful senators to find sensitive documents which have been allegedly stolen by a black cleaning woman who has gone missing. They manage to locate her and she is gunned down shortly after having shown Patrick Kenzie a photo which seems to incriminate one of the two senators, and the private detectives are left to their own devices to find the other pictures which reveal the nature of the crime and the reason for the killing. As can be expected, the plot thickens substantially. The title of the book is a reference to a moment in the story when Kenzie, Gennaro and another character have drinks in a local bar before an anticipated gang-war erupts. At the head of the two rival black gangs are a sadistic, crack-selling, pimping father on the one side, and his giant sixteen year-old hate-filled killing machine son on the other. Lehane is good at spinning his story and keeping the pace brisk, with plenty of twist and turns to keep the reader hooked. The core thread, not too surprisingly, references the problem of black vs white race relations and prejudices. The problem is that Lehane insists on beating his reader over the head with these issues and it seemed more than anything like his way of coming to terms with his own conflicting emotions on the topic via Patrick Kenzie’s ongoing inner dialogue on the matter. I knew there would be plenty of cringe-worthy prose and one-liners such as: “With Bubba and Devin around, I felt safer than a condom at a eunuch’s convention.” There’s no accounting for what people find amusing, and I suppose this sort of questionable humour is in keeping with the macho stance of classic authors of the noir genre, which Lehane is often compared to. But I guess I’m not all that bothered since I’ll be catching up with the rest of the series soon enough.


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