Dennis Lehane

A Drink before the War

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A Drink before the War Summary

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A Drink before the War is a 1994 crime novel by American author Dennis Lehane. The first book in his Kenzie/Gennaro series, it follows private investigators Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro, who are commissioned by a group of politicians to find a cache of missing documents. The detectives inadvertently uncover a child abuse case and find themselves entangled in a complicated gang war. At the same time, both detectives struggle with their personal lives: Gennaro with an abusive husband, and Kenzie with his own past moral mistakes. The novel explores how the public and private selves inevitably interact and overlap, influencing people’s endeavors to live good moral lives.

The novel begins as Patrick Kenzie meets with Senators Brian Paulson and Sterling Mulkern, and Representative Jim Vurnan. The politicians inform him that a member of the congressional cleaning staff, Jenna Angeline, has stolen several confidential files referring to a forthcoming bill to curb street gang violence. Both Angeline and the documents have vanished. Kenzie finds his partner, Angie Gennaro, and they begin an investigation. Before they find any leads, Kenzie sees a suspicious man watching his apartment. He discovers the man is a local gang member, Curtis Moore.

It does not take long for Kenzie and Gennaro to locate Jenna. Before they turn her in to Mulkern, Kenzie digs a little further, suspecting that the politicians haven’t told them the whole story. Jenna claims to have no documents, but suggests she has something else. Kenzie and Gennaro decide not to turn Jenna in until they find what she has. The following day, Kenzie accompanies Jenna to her bank, where she withdraws a photograph from a safety deposit box. The photo depicts Senator Paulson semi-naked in a motel room with a black man, Marion Socia. Before Jenna can furnish the location of several remaining photographs, Curtis Moore tracks and ambushes them, killing her. Kenzie shoots and disarms Curtis, bringing him in for an interrogation. Kenzie is interrogated but omits his knowledge of the photo.

Kenzie and Gennaro discover that Marion Socia was partnered with Jenna. Socia leads a local gang called the Raven Saints, and Curtis Moore is one of his closest confidants. At Jenna’s funeral, Socia appears, as well as Roland, the couple’s son. Roland is in the Raven Saints’ rival gang, the Avenging Angels. Previously peaceful, the gangs have recently erupted into a ruthless war. Later, while Curtis Moore is being treated at the hospital, someone breaks into his room and kills him, carving Jenna’s initials on his body. Kenzie and Gennaro keep looking for the remaining photos. They discover Jenna’s locker key in her car and retrace her life through the city, attempting to find whatever it unlocks.

At South Street train station, the detectives find the right locker and obtain a bag. When they reach the lobby, someone tries to kill them, but their attacker is thwarted by the detectives’ friend, Bubba Rogowski. When the police appear, Kenzie and Gennaro escape to their office. They are horrified to see that the remaining photos capture Paulson raping a black boy with the assistance of Socia. Roland’s gang pursues the detectives; when Kenzie catches a glimpse of Roland, he realizes that he is the boy who was raped. He deduces that Roland is motivated to prevent him from releasing the photos because they would humiliate him in the eyes of his gang.

As the gang war begins to appear in the Avenging Angels’ favor, many of Socia’s followers defect. Kenzie and Gennaro kill Socia during a standoff. Finally, they meet with Mulkern, giving him the photos in exchange for his payment. Unbeknownst to him, they have already turned in a photo to a reporter named Richie Colgan. Paulson is arrested, and his rape scandal is immediately made public. The police demand the other conspiring politicians to turn themselves in. At the end of the novel, Kenzie and Gennaro meet Roland, who relates that he no longer has an interest in hurting them.