A bit of history here. THE DROP by Dennis Lehane began life as a short story titled “Animal Rescue” (set in the same working class neighborhood as his classic MYSTIC RIVER), which first appeared in Boston Noir, one of a series of regional short fiction collections published by the unbeatable Akashic Books. The story grew into a screenplay by Lehane, which begat a soon-to-be-released motion picture, which in turn has resulted in this not-too-long, not-too-short novel. I read it twice over the course of two days and plan to read it again before turning to something else. Is it that good? Yes. It is pitch-perfect from beginning to end.
The focal point of the story is a neighborhood bar named Cousin Marv’s, which is, by amazing coincidence, run by a once-hard guy named Marv. There is a crucial distinction here between “run” and “owned”: once upon a time, Marv indeed owned the bar, until the pivotal day several years previously when a consortium, if you will, of Chechen investors made him an offer that he did not dare refuse. While Cousin Marv’s continues to operate as a working class watering hole and under-the-table betting parlor, it also functions as one of many washer/dryer combinations for the Chechen mob and as an occasional random drop spot for the proceeds of their gambling enterprises.
"With realistic, memorable characters, dark humor, twists and turns galore, and an addictive, riveting plot --- all of it shot through with some of Lehane’s most craftworthy prose to date --- what’s not to love?"
Marv, on the wrong side of middle age, is still on the premises, quietly brooding and reflecting on his glory days, and maybe doing just a bit more. He is aided in his enterprises by his younger cousin, a loner named Bob Saginowski, who is a bit of an enigma. Saginowski is a quiet man who lives alone and is somewhat socially backward to the point where it is almost painful. His life revolves around attending daily Mass (but never receiving Holy Communion) at the neighborhood Catholic Church (which is on its last legs), going to Cousin Marv’s to bartend and coming home to an empty house. All of that changes when Saginowski is walking home from work one night and discovers an abused and abandoned dog in a trash can outside of a woman’s home.
With her help, he takes the dog in and makes a few stumbling, tentative steps toward a relationship with the woman, who is named Nadia and has a bit of an unfortunate reputation in the area. Saginowski names the dog Rocco, takes a few fumbling steps toward a relationship with Nadia, and begins to experience an emotion --- happiness --- that is totally alien to him. That, of course, is not going to last. A gentleman named Eric Deeds appears on the scene, claiming ownership of Rocco and a past relationship with Nadia. There is some truth to both claims, which covers a pair of far more extensive falsehoods. Deeds claims to want his dog back and maybe his girlfriend as well, and spends a bit of time demonstrating to Saginowski that he can do and have whatever he wants, whenever he wants it.
From the moment he steps into the book, Deeds oozes a dangerous and unhinged menace, which is pivotal to the ultimate climax of the story, particularly when he backs Saginowski into a corner, physically and emotionally. As far as Saginowski is concerned, he is both more and less than what he appears to be. Surprises abound, ones that unfold slowly as THE DROP progresses and continue almost to the last page. And possibly beyond.
Lehane does not narrate entirely in a linear fashion. He instead introduces a character here and there, and then at a later point drops back in time to provide a more detailed introduction into the backstory while the plot proceeds ever forward. The reader, however, always knows exactly where the story is, even as the surprise of where it’s going waits on a future page. Whether or not THE DROP is Lehane’s best book is an issue above my pay grade, but it is certainly my favorite one to date. With realistic, memorable characters, dark humor, twists and turns galore, and an addictive, riveting plot --- all of it shot through with some of Lehane’s most craftworthy prose to date --- what’s not to love? Strongly recommended, for new and veteran fans of Lehane alike.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on September 5, 2014