A DRINK BEFORE THE WAR/Dennis Lehane

Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro are private investigators who were hired by a group of powerful Boston politicians to find a missing cleaning woman who stole some important documents. As the smart and tough duo will find out, however, this case is no ordinary theft. It’s about right and wrong. About justice. And finding the truth could not only be dangerous, it could cost them their lives.

I would admit that when it comes to books, crime novels are always my favorite bill of fare. I grew up reading Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys, while almost all of my classmates were exchanging Sweet Valley Kids and Babysitter’s Club. And then I eventually fell in love with John Sandford, Jeffery Deaver, Dean Koontz (though some of his books aren’t of the crime type), and Anne Rule. I love the heart-stopping, chest-tightening, fist-clenching suspense and sometimes I carry with me these feelings way into my dreams.

I would admit, too, though, that the first time I got hold of a Dennis Lehane novel, I didn’t immediately become a fan. Mystic River did not amaze me the first time I read it. Or maybe the mood I was in didn’t go well with my reading. Or maybe because it wasn’t the sort of crime story I expected. Or maybe because I was busy comparing it with the works of my favourite authors. With Dennis Lehane, it wasn’t love at first sight…err, love at first read, if I should be very literal. But it wasn’t hate either. At any rate, it was just…different.

Which brings me to another point. Dennis Lehane is indeed different. In his writing style, his plots, his characters, his voice. I was intrigued by the movie trailer of Shutter Island, and I was “met” Dennis Lehane once again. It was then that I got hooked.

A Drink Before The War is the first book in this Kenzie-Gennaro series of six. Here, Lehane introduces the tandem of Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro, a duo of street smart, street tough private investigators who hold office at the belfry tower of a Catholic church in Boston. The story opens with some politicians engaging the services of Kenzie and Gennaro to look for a missing cleaning woman who stole important documents from the State house. Their search would eventually lead them to the streets of Dorchester, to becoming targets of warring gangsters, and being caught in the midst of a political scandal.

Patrick Kenzie as a PI is immediately likeable. His wit and sarcasm, often philosophical outbursts are somewhat funny but thought-provoking. Angela Gennaro is quite endearing, though it would have been more interesting if she was a little bit different from Kenzie in the way she speaks and acts. Lehane could have made her a little more “womanly”. A contrast between the two of them, aside from their anatomy, could have brought a little excitement.

Dennis Lehane has crafted his characters well, with strengths, weaknesses, and fears, which make them real humans and all the more believable. He has provided enough background for each character providing them depth and credibility. I like his writing style and the quick dialogues. His approach to mystery and suspense is effortless. He has brilliantly woven into the story his discussions on religion, morality, discrimination, and politics

There is enough humor in the book, it makes the action scenes less gory and unpleasant. Maybe because Lehane isn’t interested much in the action. He is interested in the views he wants to extend to his readers. And though his type of crime story isn’t similar to the others I’ve read, this just adds to my fascination of his writing skills. He has indeed brought crime stories to a new and different dimension.

Advisory: Not for readers who are sensitive to child abuse and violence.

4 stars.

Leave a Reply