Beware The Solitary Drinker
By Cornelius Lehane
Poisoned Pen Press, $24.95
An Upper West Side bartender and sometime actor, Brian McNulty is unwillingly drawn into a quest for the killer of a young woman, a recent regular at Oscar’s, the bar where McNulty currently works. McNulty, like all good bartenders, respects the confidences he hears and what he learns about the people who drink in his establishment. But in order to figure out who the murderer is, he must probe and probe and learn still more about the private lives of his customers, about things he’d rather not know.
This dark, leisurely look at a community of people within the larger city of New York, is compelling and enthralling in a way not easily described. In the middle of the book there is a conversation between McNulty and a long-time customer who says, “These are sad things to talk about, aren’t they? Your life goes along its usual route. It’s ordinary. You might even think boring. You think nothing will ever be different. You don’t even notice you’re growing older. Then something tragic happens and all the ordinariness is gone. You don’t feel safe anymore. Did you ever think your friends would be murdered?”
Author Lehane wields a powerful pen. We experience the anguish of the people McNulty questions, his relationship with the sister of the dead girl, and his own anguish at becoming the repository of so much intimate knowledge. Each new revelation alters the way he looks at those who frequent his bar, those he calls friend. And he knows, often with a sharpened sense of sadness, that those friends’ perceptions of him are likewise, altered forever. This is a fine novel with a wonderful sense of place, filled with real characters who seem to experience real emotions.