A Drink Before the War by Dennis Lehane

I very recently read my first Dennis Lehane novel and I was hooked. When another opportunity came up on my Book Bub list, I jumped at the chance to grab it and I was not disappointed. This book was a compelling read. I started reading it during a blackout and was so engrossed that I read it in one sitting. Sometimes there is an advantage to disengaging from the wired world.

The story is set in South Boston. Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro grew up together and now have a Private Investigation agency located in the belfry of a local church. In exchange for free rent, they do light security duty for the parish priest. As the book opens, Patrick is summoned to meet with a group of local political players who want the agency to retrieve some documents that have gone missing. All signs point to a cleaning woman having removed them.

From there, the actions kicks right in as Patrick and Angie pursue the cleaning woman and in turn are pursued by two rival gangs and their leaders who also want both the cleaning woman and the documents. In the mix, there is also a bill set to go before the House involving regulating gang activity and this also plays a role in the story.

Patrick and Angie have great chemistry and there is a wrench in the works: Angie is married to a third high school buddy who is also very abusive to her and has been for years. Patrick alternately wants to save her, encourages her to save herself and wants a relationship with her but both know that her husband is a loose cannon. This story line mirrors that of the cleaning woman although their outcomes are very different.

The scenes are so well described you feel yourself squarely in South Boston and the downtown environs. This is a writer who knows his city intimately and that comes through in the work. The writing is gritty in a good way and there is an edge of black humor that keeps the whole story in perspective.

I’m a Lehane convert and I can easily recommend this book which looks like it might be a first in a series for these characters and you will want to revisit them.

Lunar Park by Bret Easton Ellis

I have read all the works of Bret Easton Ellis. Like all of his books, I always need to walk away and think about the book for several days and organize my thoughts before I can write about the one I just read.

The first thing I would say is that if you haven’t read any of Ellis’ work, don’t start with this one because a great deal of the book reference’s earlier works. This is because, although the book is largely fiction, Ellis names the main character Bret Easton Ellis who is a writer and just happens to have written all the books Ellis has written. Sound confusing? It is a bit; especially of you haven’t read any other works by this author.

Ellis also has a style of writing where he focuses on minutiae – lots of name dropping of luxury goods, in depth descriptions of the house where is living and which is in the process of devolving into the childhood home in which he was miserable and where his life began spiraling out of control. There are also sex scenes which are almost always detached and usually the female characters are not depicted in any flattering way.

This book also delves into issues regarding Ellis’ most controversial work “American Psycho”. I happen to have loved that book but it is a hard read, very graphic in its depictions of sex and violence and comes up repeatedly on banned books lists the world over. It is worth the time and effort one puts into it and there is endless debate as to whether the events in the book happened or whether they took place in the mind of the main character.  Ellis gives an answer to that question in this book but since its fiction….is it really the answer?

There isn’t a good way to describe the action in this book without giving it away. Let’s say it is about relationships between men and women; growing up or not growing up; relationships between fathers and sons; middle age and mid-life crises; stalking; reality and illusion; Halloween; the supernatural and “American Psycho”.

If you haven’t tried any of Ellis’ work, I urge you to give it a try. Although his two early works, “Less Than Zero” and “The Rules of Attraction” are dated being set squarely in the 1980’s, they are quick reads and a good foundation of his work. To really challenge yourself on mental, psychological and emotional levels, “American Psycho” is worth the investment and will help you in further reading of this authors work.

If you are an Ellis fan already, this book reminded me a bit of “Fight Club” and the movie “Memento”. Then throw in Stephen Kings’ “The Shining” set in the suburbs and add a dash of “Insidious” and “Paranormal Activity” all in Ellis’ unique voice and I think you will have a pretty good idea of what this book must be like.

I found it compelling, disturbing and hard to put down. What more can you ask from a book?

Hell’s Angel: The Life and Times of Sonny Barger and the Hell’s Angels Motorcycle Club by Sonny Barger

The book is basically a series of vignettes narrated by Sonny Barger, the President and one of the founding members of the Hell’s Angels Oakland Chapter. From a strictly historical viewpoint, this is a good overview into how the MC’s developed from returned vets in World War II up to today.

I did not read the electronic version of the book and so had the benefit of having access to all the pictures. These are a great addition to the read as many are photographs of the individuals Barger is telling stories about. There are also some great pictures of the bikes – particularly choppers from the late 60’s and 70’s.

Let’s say that if you are looking for hardcore murder, mayhem and drug dealing a la “Sons of Anarchy” you may be barking up the wrong tree. There are inferences and allusions to that life but the dirty deeds are skirted. I guess Sonny Barger felt that he had done enough time and smartly did not incriminate himself in the book.

That being said, the stories are fun. Everything from Sturgis to Altamont, from the summer of love in Frisco to the heydays in Oakland are covered. One thing about the MC life becomes obvious by the end of the book – Sonny Barger is lucky to be alive because most of the members he writes about died. Many died in motorcycle accidents, some from drug overdoses and some in prison murders.

Sonny Barger doesn’t glorify it too much but the story is shined and polished and rated PG so there is still some mystique for those looking for that aspect of the life. Rivalries, old ladies, fights, bikes and bikes and more bikes make up a short, light and entertaining read.