One Cool DRINK

Reading a good book is always a pleasure, but there’s something extra exciting about discovering a new author and his smashing debut, a PWA winner for Best First Private Eye Novel. Thomas Kaufman‘s Drink the Tea is a witty, fast-paced mystery that made me hope, only a few pages in, that it’ll be turned into a series.

Willis Gidney is an orphan who spent his childhood in and out of foster homes, becoming an expert at stealing and lying, heading for a life of crime until he gets taken in by Captain Shadrack Davies of the D.C. Police. The experience changes him, not completely, but enough so that he grows up to be a smart-ass D.C. private eye.

An old acquaintance, jazz musician Steps Jackson, asks Gidney to find his daughter, Bobbie, the result of a one-night stand twenty-five years ago. Supposed to be a straightforward missing persons case but right away, thugs show up to rough up Gidney, people start dying, and Gidney realizes he’s stumbled upon something which might involve a powerful corporation and a corrupt congressman.

The story jumps back and forth between the present case and Gidney’s time in foster care, slowly doling out what happened between Gidney and Davies during their short stint together. Gidney has a quick wit, but we find it was born as survival instinct. We get to witness Gidney’s evolution from problem child to a man trying to do the right thing, if sometimes reluctantly.

Kaufman, an Emmy-winning cinematographer who’s shot shows like The FBI Files and The New Detectives, brings his eye for detail to his writing and excels in showing instead of telling. He describes a picture of a boy in a high-school yearbook thusly:

His interests included biology, chemistry, debate. He looked apologetic, as though his violin lesson had run over and he’d shown up late to chess club.

Kaufman didn’t need to write “nerd”; the description couldn’t be clearer. And instead of using variations on the word “big,” the author writes that an internet cafe “had an espresso bar the size of Congress but with less hot air,” and about “a pair of shoes that would have won me free tuition to Clown School.”

Gidney’s background and sensibilities make him part Elvis Cole, Robert Crais’s wisecracking P.I. who was an old youngster once; and Harry Bosch, Michael Connelly’s foster-care-raised detective whose biggest mystery is his own lineage. Since those two are top of my list of favorite series characters, Gidney is in lofty company indeed.

Nerd verdict: Drink this



  • Reply
    February 23, 2010 at 7:07 am

    You feel like you’ve won some grand prize when you make a discovery like this, don’t you? And, as if I wasn’t already planning on finding this book midway into your review, it became a moral imperative that I have to get this book once you invoked the names Elvis Cole and Harry Bosch!

    Great review, PCN! Thanks for the heads-up!

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      February 23, 2010 at 5:13 pm

      It’s my pleasure anytime I can give you a heads up about something good.

      I just added an update in the article but I’ll post it here, too: Mr. Kaufman wrote me to say St. Martin’s already has the manuscript of the second Gidney novel, Son of an Elephant, but hasn’t decided to publish it. It’d be awesome if we can help make that happen!

  • Reply
    February 23, 2010 at 10:09 am

    Come on! The “nerdy” description is almost mine… at least the first sentence. Then, you can trade violin for keyboards and chess for Tolkien and you got me!

    Anyway, the book seems like an amazing find PCN, I’ll be adding it to my TBB (To-Be-Bought) pile and soon -I hope- to my TBR.

    Thanks for this great review (I see you got rid of your laziness… or got some chocolate).

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      February 23, 2010 at 5:15 pm

      Not only does that nerdy description fit me as well (why do you think I remembered it?), you don’t have to replace any of the words because I play the violin AND chess!

      Haha! You remembered my laziness. Yes, I managed to somehow shake it off with the help of some chocolate and, appropriately, tea.

  • Reply
    February 23, 2010 at 11:48 am

    That’s some heady company you’re putting this new P.I. with, PCN. I’ll probably have to check this out. Thanks for this.

  • Reply
    Naomi Johnson
    February 23, 2010 at 4:03 pm

    I can’t wait until this one arrives in the store.

  • Reply
    Pop Culture Nerd
    February 23, 2010 at 5:17 pm

    lp13 & Naomi—It arrives next week! Would love to hear thoughts on it.

  • Reply
    February 23, 2010 at 8:55 pm

    You made me thirsty…I will drink the tea!

  • Reply
    February 24, 2010 at 9:02 am

    Ohhh sounds like a great book! As Christine noted, if you’re comparing him to Elvis Cole I’ll have to pick it up. If you had aligned him to my lover, Joe Pike, I may have had to insist you mail me your copy now.

    What would make this review really perfect would be a corresponding drink recipe. You’re multi-skilled, PCN, want to go in the kitchen and whip something up for me to try!?

  • Reply
    Shell Sherree
    February 25, 2010 at 12:34 am

    Added to ‘the list’, PCN! And if I hadn’t read your review but was in a bookstore choosing something new just based on the title, I’d have been very inclined to take this one home.

  • Reply
    Jen Forbus
    February 25, 2010 at 4:24 pm

    Why haven’t I heard of this one yet???? See what happens when I leave for one weekend to go to Wisconsin? Yeesh! I need to get my grimy paws on this one…I don’t care if I am overwhelmed with books to read. This is my next must read!!!

  • Reply
    Pop Culture Nerd
    February 27, 2010 at 9:48 am

    Paulette—Hope you enjoy TEA time.

    Novelwhore—I’m useless at drink recipes. Only thing I could think of was to recommend drinking raspberry-flavored tea with a nice big hunk o’ dark chocolate while you read. Yummy. Cinnamon-flavored tea with snickerdoodles make a good snack, too.

    Shell—How about the cover? It’s enticing, too, no?

    Jen—Yay! I’d bet Mr. Kaufman will be happy when your paws meet his book.

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