THE BARKEEP by William Lashner

Book Quote:

“You knew my mother?”
“Not really. I only met her that once.”
“When was that, Birdie?”
Birdie Grackle sucked his dentures for a moment and then said, “The night I done killed her.”

Book Review:

Review by Chuck Barksdale  (MAR 7, 2014)

Justin Chase has adjusted to his life as a barkeep (and the Zen lifestyle) after several years of living without his mother and the man he believed murdered her, his father. However, a strange man, going by the odd name of Birdie Grackle, enters the bar where Justin works and tells him that Justin’s father did not murder his mother. He alleges that Birdie himself murdered her at the request of a woman who hired him to do it. Birdie says he doesn’t know who paid him but that for $10,000 he will track her down. Justin does not agree to pay Birdie and does not immediately believe what Birdie is telling him. With his brother Frank’s urging, Justin visits his father in prison for the first time since his father was sent there 6 years ago.

After meeting with his father, Justin decides to do some investigating of his own. He hires his friend Jody to follow Birdie to see what he can learn. Jody doesn’t really find anything useful, just that Birdie likes to drink and doesn’t have much money. Justin looks into the various people in his parents’ life that may have wanted his mother dead. Justin knew that his father was having an affair with Annie Overmeyer, someone who may have wanted his father all for herself. Annie at first appears to be a likely candidate but Justin is not sure after meeting her and actually starts to feel some attraction for the woman. Annie appears to have moved on from his father, although generally with one night stands, but maybe her attraction with Justin is different. His father also tries to convince Justin that he and his mother had an open marriage which seems to be confirmed when he reads old letters that his brother gives him that implies that his mother had had an affair as well. This leads Justin down other paths to people in his parents’ life to try to find out if his father is in fact innocent.

Although Justin studied to be a lawyer, he was just fine being a good barkeep. However, he has to rethink his life along with his thoughts about his father. Many of the other people in Justin’s life are stressed with the possibility that his father is not the killer and that his father may return (which is not necessarily what everyone wants). Lashner’s characters are so realistic that you can really understand how and why they react to the changing circumstances as Justin unravels what appears to be the truth about his mother’s murderer. Of course, Lashner throws in a few twists to not make everything quite be as they are first presented which makes for an even more enjoyable book.

The Barkeep is told mostly through the third person perspective of Justin Chase, although Lashner also occasionally presents the book from the perspective of other characters such as Annie Overmeyer. This gives the reader a little more perspective and also allows the reader to know a bit more about the characters and the truth before it is learned by Justin.

I really enjoyed this book as Lashner presents realistic, different and often flawed characters that are placed in difficult situations. Some of the other characters that Lashner includes are a couple of attorneys (Lashner is an attorney himself, after all), including the attorney who wonders if she was right in putting Justin’s father in prison. Another interesting character is Derek, a man with limited mental capabilities but with the ability to open any locked door and who uses violence to solve his problems.

William Lashner has had success with his Victor Carl stories, but lately he’s been writing stand-alone books such as The Barkeep. I’ve read most of the Victor Carl books (and am looking forward to the next Victor Carl novel, Bagmen, due out later in 2014) and I really enjoy them; this was the first non-series book of Lashner’s that I’ve read. The Barkeep certainly has some of the same writing style and well-written somewhat flawed characters that I enjoyed in the Victor Carl books, but it does not quite have the same amount of humor (which likely would have been out of place). The local Philadelphia area color is also a bit less obvious. However, no one will be disappointed in this fast-paced and enjoyable book by William Lashner.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-0from 1,497 readers
PUBLISHER: Thomas & Mercer (February 1, 2014)
REVIEWER: Chuck Barksdale
AUTHOR WEBSITE: William Lashner
EXTRAS: Excerpt
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March 7, 2014 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: ,  · Posted in: Character Driven, Mystery/Suspense

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