Drink the Tea: A Mystery
by Thomas Kaufman
Cover Artist: Photo: Rudy Sulgan / Corbis
Review by Joseph B. Hoyos
Minotaur Books Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780312607302
Date: 02 March 2010 List Price $24.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Willis Gidney was a child con artist who is now a Washington D.C. private investigator; every night, however, he must battle the ghosts of his traumatic childhood. Jazz musician, Steps Jackson, has asked Gidney to locate his daughter, Bobbie Jackson; she is the product of a one night stand he had with wealthy art collector Colette Andrews. Gidney's investigation leads him to Capitol Hill where he encounters a racist politician, Jason McHugh, who is running for the U.S. Senate. Lilly McClellan, a beautiful computer geek, joins Gidney in his search, which takes him to night clubs, condemned houses, toxic waste dumps and finally to the underground tunnels of the Lincoln Memorial. All the while they are threatened, pursued and assaulted by ruthless thugs who will kill anyone who tries to find the mysterious Bobbie Jackson.
Thomas Kaufman's award-winning Drink the Tea is a fast-paced, cleverly written detective novel that is guaranteed to keep mystery fans turning the pages until the very end. Kaufman takes the reader on a tour of the United States's capital, from the seedy neighborhood of Shaw to the upscale, wealthy neighborhood of Georgetown. And our tour guide is the witty, wisecracking Willis Gidney. He likes to perform voice impersonations of fictional characters such as Elmer Fudd, Bugs Bunny, and Stanley Kowalski of A Street Car Named Desire. Considering he was a street urchin whose birth parents remain a mystery, Gidney becomes a rather respectable person thanks to the caring hand of Captain Shadrack Davies, one of many in a long line of foster parents. True love means never losing hope that someone will forsake their life of crime.
On innumerable occasions, Gidney made me laugh out loud with his offbeat thoughts and spoken comments. While sitting inside an office of the Rayburn Building, he glances into the hallway where lawyers and lobbyists are sliding past on each other's slime trails. After listening to a speech given by the racist McHugh who has a Southern drawl, Gidney remarks that he never knew the plural of y'all was all y'all. When caught trying to scale the fence of a toxic waste dump, he tells the security guard he was looking for the Mahatma Ghandi Memorial Barbecue. Gidney's wry sense of humor extends to his business cards which read: "I cheat the other guy and pass the savings on to you."
A former model turned computer geek, Lilly McClellan begins falling in love with Gidney because of his rugged exterior and his soft interior. He is very protective of women and adores children. Upon finding an infant girl at the house of a murdered woman, he can not bear to be separated from her. He leaves her in the care of a highly educated lesbian couple, Jan and Janet, who enjoy drinking tea in their Japanese tea room. Gidney is obsessed with finding Bobbie Jackson, not because of money, but because he truly fears for her safety.
The plot for Drink the Tea has been ripped from the headlines of today's newspapers. At one time, people were growing mushrooms in their dark basements for extra money. Now, they're turning that spare bathroom into a meth lab or that spare bedroom into a marijuana garden. The temptation is great. The profits for growing marijuana are tremendous and they can be used to fund a lot of political influence. Marijuana is America's newest cash crop. As I write this, laws are being passed to make it more accessible for medical usage.
Nasty villains abound in Drink the Tea. Gidney is surrounded by them. There is the popular Congressman McHugh and Security Chief Frank Varga of Kerberos. Mal, an employee of Varga's, enjoys a gruesome form of artwork that is created by skulls that splatter blood when shot at close range. Gidney is aided by Lieutenant Emil Haggler, who knew him when he was a delinquent, and a homeless man, Augustus, who served in the Gulf War. Augustus comes in handy when providing distractions with explosive devices. Lilly has wonderful computer hacking skills that are put to good use. Hacking into Pepco, she discovers that every filthy apartment Bobbie has rented has had huge electric bills (not to mention holes in the ceiling, garbage bags taped over the windows, and breaker boxes converted to maintain higher electrical currents).
Thomas Kaufman's Drink the Tea is highly recommended for fans of detective noir and political thrillers. A superb debut novel, it introduces an unique D.C. detective of whom readers will hope to see more. If Drink the Tea is your cup of tea, then I recommend Faces of the Gone, which involves a wise cracking journalist, Ross Carter, who is determined to learn who executed four drug dealers. Other action packed detective novels involving heroes being chased by lowlifes are The Good Son, The Ragged End of Nowhere: A Novel and Death Wore White.