This was a tough call between 3 and 4 stars. Gonna lean on the side of 4 because I think this book has a lot going for it even if it is an exhausting read at times.
I read George Pelecanos’ Nick Stefanos series last year. Had I read it in my 20s, I probably would have loved the notion of a bartender-cum-PI who lives a loner life. I still enjoy going out and having a good time even now I’m my 30s, though I rarely see the other side of midnight. But reading it last year, I felt sad for the protagonist. The barfly existence has a shelf life that you don’t want to surpass, lest you get lost in it forever.
Lehane does a good job of portraying that life through his characters whose lives are centered at a down-on-its-luck bar in early 80s uptown Manhattan. These people are seen as humans who have mostly surrendered their humanity to booze, dead end jobs and other sundry exploits.
At the forefront is Brian, a bartender in his 40s who develops a platonic relationship with an unlikely customer in those parts: a young, attractive woman. When she turns up dead, he teams up with her sister to try and find the killer, suspecting that one of his regulars did the deed.
The murder mystery is somewhat interesting but there are too many characters and the writer loses the thread several times. I would have loved to have read a better edited version of this book because Lehane has talent. The last fifty pages were a slog and on retrospect, I probably should have given it 3 stars.
But the world Lehane builds is so vividly described and evocative of 80s New York that I kept reminding myself at the end of how absorbed I was for large sections of the book. I wasn’t a fan of the characters but I liked how they were written and how it all came to a head in this bar, the hub of their fellowship and community.
I also liked how the writer was honest about Brian’s poor sleuthing abilities, even going as far to contrast him with Lew Archer, the protagonist of my favorite PI series! Brian’s communist politics also come into play in ways that felt natural to his character without signaling
This is not a great mystery book but it is an absorbing one written by a hidden talent that is worth your time if you like the subject matter.