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Not a bad first novel
on June 4, 2014
I’ve recently found myself with more free tim. I figured that it was time to start reading some of those “I’ve been meaning to read…” books. Dennis Lehane has been on my “To Read” list for quite some time (after watching the movie version of Mystic River). Somehow or other, I managed to always find something different to read.
The other day, I was scrolling through my eBook library, saw “A Drink Before the War”, and decided that now was the time. One of the first things I do when I read a book that isn’t hot off the press is to check the copyright date. Knowing when a book was written before I start reading can help me keep things in context (i.e. what was going on in the world/culture, where we were technologically, etc.) In the case of this book, I’m glad I checked the copyright date.
This book was written in 1994. And, it feels like 1994 when you read it: talk of computer diskettes, cassette tapes in the car radio, and lack of cellphones. I don’t need a story to be up-to-date in order to enjoy it – I enjoy a lot of historical fiction, and, I suppose, twenty years ago counts as history. There’s something about the book, and I’m not quite sure what it is, but it feels more “dated” than “historical”.
The plot, which others have detailed, involves (among other things) racial tension in Boston, a city that in spite of its Yankee heritage was quite divided and very vocal about school integration/busing back in the 1970s. And, Boston (like every other big city) still has its racial tensions, especially in poorer areas where different racial groups live in their own communities. Poverty and racial issues are worthy topics of discussion, worthy to be included in novels, but it somehow seems to fall flat in Lehane’s book. The story of the gang war that breaks out after the murder of Jenna Angeline seems at first to be important to the story, yet somehow the issue recedes into the background. I almost felt that with the n-word used so many times that there would be a more powerful, societal element to the story, but, instead, it all just seems to be glossed over with an “is what it is, nothing can change” attitude.
Also, for some reason, I was expecting it to be more of a “whodunnit”, but it is more about the “why”, and then once the “why” is discovered, there’s just lots of running around and shooting.
Kenzie and Gennaro, flawed yet likeable enough heroes are easy enough to spend time with. Their flaws humanize them and make them more relatable – though, I don’t know that I’d go so far as to say that I “liked” them.
For a first novel, it is pretty good. My only real complaint with the technical aspects of the story is that it gets bogged down in a few places. The novel grabbed me right from the start, but there were a few points where I was about ready to give up. In the end, I stuck with it, and while the ending didn’t seem overly surprising, it didn’t fall flat.
Overall, I’d say that I liked it well enough to read the next book in the series, though I don’t know that I will rush to read it anytime soon.