PERSONAL: Married; children: two sons. Education: Columbia University, M.F.A.
CAREER: Rockland Community College, NY, former professor of English; National Education Association, Washington, DC, currently publications editor and writer. Has held various other positions such as union organizer and bartender.
“BRIAN MCNULTY SERIES; MYSTERY NOVELS
Beware the Solitary Drinker, Poisoned Pen Press (Scottsdale, AZ), 2002.
What Goes Around Comes Around, Thomas Dunne Books (New York, NY), 2005.
Death at the Old Hotel, Thomas Dunne Books (New York, NY), 2007.
SIDELIGHTS: Con Lehane has held a variety of jobs, including bartending at as many as twenty-four separate bars. His background as an English professor and editor may enhance his writing, but it is his experience behind the bar that makes the setting of his first novel, Beware the Solitary Drinker, so realistic. The book took almost ten years to write, and although it received critical praise, some had trouble categorizing it: Beware the Solitary Drinker is at once a mystery, a work of literary fiction, and a crime novel. In an interview with Gwen Glazer for Gazette.net, Lehane stated: “I thought of this as a mystery novel, but not necessarily noir, and a social criticism novel, maybe a political novel. But more than anything else, I thought of it as fiction.”
Protagonist Brian McNulty is, according to Glazer, a “gruff-but-warm” bartender who respects the privacy and the space of his customers. He listens more than he asks questions. When one of his customers, a woman named Angelina, is found dead, and another customer is accused of the crime, McNulty is forced to make some major changes in his demeanor. Rather than stand back and take an objective stance in everything that is said to him, he must dig into the private lives of the people who frequent his bar as he slowly evolves into an amateur part-time detective. Although he believes the murderer is not the man the police have accused, McNulty thinks it is likely that another of his customers did kill the young woman.
It is the dead woman’s sister, Janet, who convinces McNulty that he needs to become involved in the investigation. She prompts McNulty to help her uncover information that only he could pry from the people who hang around his bar—serious drinkers with a rash of personal problems and a lot of secrets—any one of whom is a possible suspect. In the course of their search, they even uncover secrets about Angelina, as incidents from her past are discovered. The tension of the case rises when yet another customer is killed. Angelina’s sister, who becomes McNulty’s love interest, keeps McNulty inspired. In the end, they find the culprit by unearthing a link in her past that leads to the actual murderer.
Beware the Solitary Drinker is filled with eccentric characters, all of whom seem to have been enchanted by the young Angelina. Most of the characters are men who seek solitude but do not really want to be alone, and Oscar’s bar meets their needs. A writer for Kirkus Reviews described the overall atmosphere and setting as being “drenched in wistful melancholy.” The same reviewer also revealed that Lehane’s “affection for his cast of misfits” is obvious. Meanwhile, Library Journal contributor Rex E. Klett stated that “Brian’s bar-focused outlook” and the bar “family” make for “colorful reading.”
Lehane continues the Brian McNulty series with his next book, What Goes Around Comes Around. This story is set a few years after Beware the Solitary Drinker, starting when Brian stumbles across a body near the hotel where he works, only to discover the victim is a former acquaintance. His old friend and mentor, John Wolinski, talks him into searching for the killer, but his involvement soon leads to even more trouble and entanglements from the past. One Kirkus Reviews critic remarked that “the thin, digressive plot isn’t likely to encourage readers to belly-up.” A reviewer for Publishers Weekly felt that “a repetitious and slogging plot weighs down” the book, but added that Lehane “brings alive the dark, offbeat world behind the facade of luxury hotels and bars.”
The third Brian McNulty installment, Death at the Old Hotel, finds Brian working in a new job at the Savoy Hotel in New York. Although the hotel has seen better days, Brian is among a small group of workers who continue to take pride in their work in the face of lesser employees, unfair management, and ultimately an unjust firing that eventually leads to a murder. A contributor to Kirkus Reviews praised the novel, stating that “Brian… has become multi-faced and fully engaged in a world he never made, adding substance to a series that keeps getting better.” Booklist reviewer David Pitt dubbed this addition to Lehane’s series “an engaging narrative, with a good mixture of wit and drama.”
In his interview for Gazette.net, Lehane said that in many kinds of noir writing the overall theme is that the “little guy is defeated.” He just cannot stand up to the powers against him. They are “overwhelming, and he’s not going to make it.” However, he added: “I don’t accept that” kind of defeatism.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, May 1, 2007, David Pitt, review of Death at the Old Hotel, p. 34.
Kirkus Reviews, August 15, 2002, review of Beware the Solitary Drinker, p. 1179; November 1, 2004, review of What Goes Around Comes Around, p. 1031; May 1, 2007, review of Death at the Old Hotel.
Library Journal, October 1, 2002, Rex E. Klett, review of Beware the Solitary Drinker, p. 132.
Publishers Weekly, November 4, 2002, review of Beware the Solitary Drinker, p. 66; December 20, 2004, review of What Goes Around Comes Around, p. 39.
Con Lehane Home Page,http://www.conlehane.com (January 15, 2008).
Gazette.net, http://www.gazette.net/ (December 9, 2002), Gwen Glazer, “Creating Outside of the Lines.”*