Brian McNulty, veteran bartender at Oscar's on the Upper West Side, respects his customers' privacy. And their space. But when a tarnished but innocent young woman seduced by New York's bright lights and glitter is murdered and another battered innocent charged with killing her, he reluctantly begins his own investigation. Brian's commitment to the chase is given a boost with the arrival of the dead girl's sister, a young Massachusetts businesswoman, determined to uncover the killer. While she's put off by Brian's jaded attitude and offbeat lifestyle, she comes to rely upon his familiarity with the city's darker underside, including a cadre of neighborhood cronies. Politically leftist and a dedicated union man, Brian learns that when you dig into people's lives, rich or poor, you find things kept hidden for good reason. By stirring up these ghosts, you change the shape of the landscape and put your friends, your customers, and yourself in harm's way. This debut novel is perfectly wrapped in original art by Fritz Scholder. Con Lehane grew up in the suburbs of New York City and currently writes from just outside of Washington, DC, where he lives with his wife and two sons. Once a college professor, union organizer, and bartender, Lehane is now an editor at the National Education Association. He holds a Master of Fine Arts degree in fiction writing from Columbia University School of the Arts. www.conlehane.com
The characters who inhabit Oscar's bar on New York's Upper West Side are serious drinkers with more than their share of quirks, shames, secrets and strengths. In this strong debut novel, Lehane exhibits a sensitive empathy for those who find solace in drink and drugs and the ambience at Oscar's, where one can be solitary but not alone. Mostly older, mostly men, Oscar's patrons are captivated by Angelina, an alluring, available young woman, who begins to frequent their bar. Even bartender Brian McNulty, a participant/observer presiding, absorbing, but never probing is drawn into her orbit. But when the beautiful, troubled Angelina is murdered and Brian's customers and friends become suspects, he reluctantly abandons his bartender's code: "I enter my friend's house deaf; I leave dumb." Instead, prodded by the arrival of Angelina's sister, Janet, from their hometown of Springfield, Mass., Brian begins to learn more than he wants about Angelina's past. Brian is a wonderfully complex character, and Lehane reveals him to the reader with exquisite skill. Brian takes shape, developing substance and form, just as his stumbling investigation does. Set in 1983 but timeless in its depiction of men and women struggling to cope with whatever demons beset them, Lehane's assured debut merits a warm welcome from readers who prize originality and insight.