Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A Drink Before the War

A Drink Before the War
First in the Kenzie/Gennaro series
by Dennis Lehane
narrated by Joanathan Davis
Ⓟ 2011, Harper Audio
8.8 hours

Patrick Kenzie, and by extension his partner, Angela Gennaro, are private detectives hired to retrieve documents stolen from a state senator's office. Except that the documents aren't really documents and, what these "documents" are and why they are important, provide the link to a story which highlights a Boston beyond what tourists see: Racial tensions, extreme economic disparity within blocks and, political corruption. Dennis Lehane has written a hard, truthful story about a city, about a culture within the context of a fictional thriller. Black vs White racial tensions are the biggest axe that Lehane grinds in A Drink Before the War. The politicians are white, the cleaning lady is black; blue collar workers hole up in dives in black neighborhoods and, count the number of black players on opposing football teams on TV; the gang wars are drawn along geo-racial lines: the blacks of The Bury (Roxbury) and the white kids of Dorchester; even a newscasting team on television consisting of a white newsman and a black newswoman, show up the racial lines drawn in the racist city. The economic inequality is played out across the neighborhoods in and around Boston: An obsequious doorman pulls open the doors to posh restaurants and hotels and, Copley Square is a testament to the gaudy splendors of the monied; but in Dorchester, the the lower middle class watches as the dual forces of gentrification and urban decay obliterate their homes into the dust and; in Roxbury, the tenements and sagging homes fall prey to entropy. The environments do not encourage correlative levels of crime, only better cover for the crimes in the better neighborhoods. The dome of the capitol, it turns out, provides better protection against punishment than the streets of Roxbury. Lehane's key protagonist, Patrick Kenzie, has the self awareness to recognize how the city has informed him and; despite his attempts to rise above his circumstances, the scars of his past are ever-present both literally and figuratively. Kenzie's internal struggle to identify his moral dilemmas and excoriate his ghosts add dimension to a character that could all too easily been rendered a mere action figure.

Jonathan Davis gives a solid, nearly neutral and careful reading of the text. He gives the story a very light, somewhat Ben Affleckian Boston accent, and affects an appropriate Irish accent to the equally affected state senator with a deliberate and near comic manner. A light Boston accent is better than a bad Boston accent; but there are inherent risks in that approach because authenticity is sacrificed. Davis slows his meter down to create an illusion of a deepened register for the black characters, but the street cadence is missing. We always know who's talking; but all the voices are slightly "off" either in measure or in idiom. One also has to wonder if Davis has a sense of humor in the literary or narrative sense: Some lines could have benefited from a quicker, more ironic delivery.

Recommendation: For those who like grittier fare a la Adrian McKinty (The Dead Trilogy: Dead I Well May Be; The Dead Yard and, The Bloomsbury Dead; or Richard Price (Lush Life.)

Other Stuff: I received a digital dnload copy from Harper Audio for review purposes.

Also, it turns out that the narrator is the nephew of a consultant for the company I work for. This fact did not inform my review on any conscious level.

This book qualifies for the Where Are You Reading? Challenge hosted by Sheila at her blog, Book Journey. A Drink Before the War takes place in Dorchester and Boston, Massachusetts.

View dogearedcopy map 2011 in a larger map


  1. Hi! Thanks for commenting at Reading with My Ears about Moonlight Mile. If you are interested in more Lehane, I really recommend Shutter Island, read by Tom Stechshulte. But if you've already read it/seen the movie, there's almost no point ... since there will be no suspense. But, if you haven't, it's a great book and a really terrific audio.

  2. kind of sounds like fun book. i still haven't read any dennis lehane! oh the shame.

  3. I like that "Ben Affleckian" is a descriptor now =)