A Drink Before the War by Dennis Lehane
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
A crime drama set in '90s Boston?! Yes and thank you!
I came of age in the 1990s just 45 minutes outside of Boston. So much of this book speaks to me.
What didn't feel as intimate was the race relations/strife plot. There was one black family in my sleepy little suburban hometown when I grew up. I'm sure we had racists, but racism wasn't a thing because there weren't races, just a bunch of whities. The subject didn't come up unless it was in the newspapers. The city had its problems, has had its problems right along. A Drink Before the War touches upon Boston's race problem in a grand, as well as intimate, way.
Plot summary quickie: Two private investigators are tasked by local politicians to retrieve certain documents. The pair end up in the middle of a gang war. But something deeper and darker is going on, which pushes our heroes to go above and beyond the call of duty. Also, during the investigation one of the investigators struggles with memories of his own past while the other deals with an abusive husband. Big and small, political and personal storylines pulse throughout A Drink Before the War.
I loved the two main characters, maybe not as people, but at least as well developed characters. Why not as people? Well, no one is clean. I mean, just about everyone in this book has flaws. Some are bigger and harder to overlook than others. But Dennis Lehane was looking to prick his readers' moral repugnance and he did a hell of a job, all while telling a fast-paced thriller.
There's nothing wrong with this book from my perspective. So why didn't I give this a five star rating? It's fantastic! And yet, it doesn't quite feel like a masterpiece. Maybe it's because it spends most of its time in the dirt. You feel filthy after reading this one, tarnished by the crooked politicians, the degenerates, gangland violence, unrepentant slayings, etc. However, that was its intent and it succeeds...oh man, does it ever succeed.
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