Monday, December 3, 2007

Death in Spain, Murder and Race Relations in Boston and Philadelphia- Part 2

A Drink Before the War (ADBTW) is a tale of dirty politicians, drug wars, race relations (good and bad), and private eyes who operate outside the law with impunity. Add to this an unhealthy dose of behavior right out of a Greek play by Aeschylus and you have enough ammunition for a high-energy, high body count thriller. However, author Dennis Lehane doesn't stop there in his first novel about private detectives Angie Gennaro and Patrick Kenzie. He takes on the problem of battered spouses, and he adds the baggage of growing up in a neighborhood where "hood" is the operative word, and the criminal in question may well be your Dad.

The good guys, the bad guys and the men, women and children who straddle the moral line come mostly from Irish, Italian, and African American ethnic groups that dominate various Boston neighborhoods. There is no correlation between socioeconomic status and moral character, though the poor and homeless beat the Statehouse crowd hands down when it comes to true character.

So, what is different about this book from all similar crime novels? The book differs in the way it addresses issues of race and class, head on, and pulls no punches. Some of the book touches raw nerves, but it does so by providing dialog and scenes that authentically portray how some black and white friends (and enemies) would discuss and argue and fight and make truces, or not make truces, depending on how far things had gone. Of course, this means that the book doesn't offer us any easy answers, or any answers at all, but with many of these issues, a whole a lot talking needs to go on before it will be possible for communities to agree on answers. ADBTW adds to the dialog and doesn't exploit the characters.

One additional subplot that rings true is the way that Kenzie, who has been in love with Gennaro since childhood, constantly subjects her to sexual harassment in the course of their professional partnership while simultaneously acting as avenging angel towards Gennaro's wife-beating husband. Patrick Kenzie isn't perfect, and he isn't a saint, and he still hangs out with old friends who are serious criminals, and he can barely control himself when it comes to Angie, and he doesn't have pat answers to serious problems facing society. On the other hand, with any matter not involving Angie, he does know right from wrong, if right and wrong can actually be identified. In this book, as in life, just identifying the right course of action can be difficult, and following it can cause considerable anguish, offering no reason for celebration once the final step is taken.

James K. Bashkin

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