Publication date November 1994
Followed by Darkness, Take My Hand
Pages 267 pp
Originally published November 1994
Genre Crime Fiction
Country United States of America
|Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)|
Awards Shamus Award for Best First P. I. Novel
Similar Dennis Lehane books, Patrick Kenzie / Angela Gennaro series books, Crime Fiction books
A Drink Before the War is the Shamus Award-winning debut novel by Dennis Lehane and was published in 1994. It is the first book in a series focusing on private investigators Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro.
- A drink before the war trailer
- Plot introduction
- Explanation of the title
- Plot summary
- Major themes
- Literary significance and reception
- Awards and nominations
A drink before the war trailer
Private Investigators Kenzie and Gennaro are tasked to retrieve missing documents by a trio of politicians. The trail leads them into the midst of a gang war and reveals an act of child abuse. Kenzie struggles with memories of his own past while Gennaro deals with her abusive marriage.
Explanation of the title
The title refers to the gang war that is central to the plot. It is from a line spoken by the character Devin midway through the novel. It is also taken from an episode of the UK TV Comedy Fawlty Towers, in the episode The Germans.
Boston private detectives Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro receive a job from three state politicians, Sterling Mulkern, Jim Vurnan and Brian Paulson, to recover documents from a former cleaning lady, Jenna Angeline. Tracking Angeline to her sister's house outside Boston, they learn she has hidden the documents in a safe deposit box in a bank back in the city. Kenzie escorts Angeline to the bank, where she gives him one photo before being gunned down by Curtis Moore, a street enforcer for notorious gangster and pimp Marion Socia. The photo shows Socia with Paulson, who has stripped down to his socks and underwear. Angeline had only hidden one photo in the safe deposit box, and it is up to Kenzie and Gennaro to find the rest.
The ensuing investigation takes the detectives from swanky Boston hotels to housing projects in the poorest ghettos of Dorchester. Kenzie wrestles with problems of race, class, urban violence, corruption, abuse, and love. A gang war erupts between Socia and his son Roland, who has taken his own gang independent, culminating in the bloodiest night of gang violence in Boston history. A street terrorism bill that would have curbed the violence is suspiciously stalled before coming to a vote. All these events are connected to the photographs, and as they pursue the evidence, Kenzie and Gennaro find themselves hunted by both sides.
Eventually the detectives find the photos, and learn that Socia prostituted his young son with Angeline, Roland, to Paulson years ago, ironically leading the boy to become a stone-cold killer. Roland gains the upper hand in the war, and Socia demands the pictures back, hoping to blackmail Roland and save himself. At a meeting with Socia, Kenzie loses control and kills him. Releasing a photo to the press with Roland's face obscured so that he will not lose his street cred and grip on his gang, Paulson is disgraced, and a victorious Roland agrees not to come after Kenzie and Gennaro.
Themes of the novel include racial and class warfare and the effect of blue collar bitterness in father figures.
Literary significance and reception
The New York Times described the book as somewhat cliched but praised the honest approach to racial and class warfare. They also felt that the seriousness of the novel's themes made a jarring contrast with the flippancy of the detective characters.
Awards and nominations
Dennis Lehane received a Shamus award for best first detective novel for the book.