A Drink Before We Die by Daniel Polansky

“Common wisdom affirms against the drinking of whiskey during daylight hours, and while I can see the merits of the argument, it is not one to which I hold.”

It’s no surprise that I worship the ground Polansky walks on; or paper he scrawls his chicken-scratch on, if you want to get technical. The man could write a grocery list, and as cliché as it sounds, yes, I’d clamor to read it. So of course my heart beat frantically when I learned he had a new short story out. About the Warden. And only a dollar expensive.

Had two on my account.

Thus, my night was spent gobbling up his newest creation, and by golly, I’d say it might be his best yet. Namely because it does two things I’ve been yearning for in the past trilogy: It shows the Warden as a one-man mafia, and holds no subtle workings underneath the table. No machinations or bumbling distraction. Our narrator is driven to the core, and I love it.

Boys play games. Dangerous games of cards or dice or something to tickle their fancy. They sin. And lie. And jape. Men do business. That is their game, and none are better at it than the Warden. This theme bleeds through the undercurrent of his short story, and good God, it shows in every scene.

There’s a new up and comer in Rigus, and he has his eyes set on the canal by Low Town. But you know what they say. Ambition breeds greed. With twenty or thirty men on his payroll, and about twice that in associates, our Warden should probably start digging his own grave. So why not a drink before we die? Not a care in the world. Because you don’t step in his territory and expect to get out of it alive. You would think the last four or five shallow graves would’ve been a hint.

But our Armadal is a thick headed individual, and not surrounded by any better people. They just don’t learn, do they?

By far, my favorite scene was the tavern bar fight. I think this expertly balances wit and pragmatism and perhaps a dash of great pacing from a brawl. The commentary is what makes me yearn to read Low Town’s trilogy, and it’s what brought me back for rereads time and again. There’s just something in the prose that sends a smile across my face, from the opening to the end.

Daniel Polansky knows how to weave a story, no matter how simple the plot might be here, and especially how to write the events in a tone that captures the reader from his first shot. He is a remarkable talent, and I can’t wait to see what he does in the newest duology.

If you’re unsure about his Fantasy Noir trilogy, because yeah, I was to begin with, look no further than this iteration. It’s the right kind of taste test that a good many of authors would do well to copy.

Yeah, the story might go the way anyone would expect it, but that’s the charm. Because it shows the true competence of our flawed anti-hero, in every breath of a page. Something you’ll only see in the far corners of his Low Town tale, in the shadows where it waits best.

“The Warden, I tell myself, he’s just as sharp as a razor and it’s darkest before the dawn, and you’ve always got a card up your sleeve, after all.”

Rating: 7.5/10

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