When I started downloading The Drop, Dennis Lehane’s latest offering, from NetGalley, I was, I’ll admit, super-excited. He is one of my Top 5 authors when it comes to across the Atlantic. I knew this wasn’t an entirely new offering – it was originally a film script, penned by Lehane, and this was the novel version of it. As a result, it’s more slimline than his usual novels – I would have been happy with another 150-odd pages, but, as I say, when it comes to Lehane, I’m biased.
But within a couple of pages, something seemed familiar. The novel is in fact an extended version of a short story, which appeared in The Best American Mystery Stories 2010, featuring the same basic storyline but with plenty of extra characters, subterfuge, shootings and scheming. Your classic Dennis Lehane, pretty much.
The plot centres on a bar, Cousin Marv’s, run by the eponymous Cousin Marv (who no longer owns the bar since he racked up gambling debts with some scary Chechens, who took the bar as payment,although it retains his name, and most of the community are unaware of this under-the-table deal.) Marv’s cousin Bob – who is a REAL cousin of Marv’s, despite him being called “Cousin Marv” by most of the parish – pretty much runs the bar, with Marv floating about doing not very much, and daydreaming of the day he will catch the break of a lifetime, which will allow him to move from Boston to areas warmer, with a full wallet and surrounded by attractive women. Marv longs for the days when he and Bob – and others – had a “crew”; was a bit of a gangster, with a reputation in the area, with respect – all long gone now the Chechens, for whom life is very cheap, have moved into the area.
Bob is something of a loner, and lives in the same house he was brought up in as an only child by his two adoring, older parents. He tells us he’s no looker, but it’s probably due to the fact that he’s so quiet and shy that he has never had a girlfriend. One night, walking home from the bar, he finds a puppy, obviously beaten, and having been dumped in a rubbish bin, due to be collected the next morning. The owner of the nearest house – and the bin – appears and asks him what he’s up to. Eventually this girl, Nadia, allows him into her home to clean up the dog. Bob asks her, who seems far more knowledgeable and comfortable with the dog, to keep him for a week while he makes up his mind if he’ll be able to cope with a puppy. It also gives Bob a chance to see Nadia again, for whom it is apparent he holds a torch.
Problems for Bob, Nadia and the dog Rocco start when a nasty character from Nadia’s past appears, who was also, coincidentally, Rocco’s original owner. Eric Deeds is a nasty bully, who is feared locally, partly for his foul personality, but more for the local legend that he murdered “Glory Days”, who was last seen going to score weed from Deeds and never seen again. Deeds plays on his reputation as an alleged murderer, and decides Bob doesn’t deserve Nadia’s company – or Rocco’s.
This sets the scene for a novel with armed robbery, a decapitated arm, some double crossing, plenty more double crossing, shocking revelations, and one of the best twists I’ve come across in a crime novel. I knew it was coming, due to having read the short story, but it’s still one of the sweetest twists I’ve had the pleasure to read.
I’m not sure when the film of this comes out, but going by other Lehane film adaptations (Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone, and Shutter Island) I doubt it’ll disappoint. As far as I know, Ben Affleck stars (and may well direct, as he directed Gone Baby Gone) with Eva Mendes, and the late James Gandolfini. Go see it, or better still, set a couple of hours by and read the book.
5 out of 5.
Thanks to Little, Brown Book Group UK for giving me the opportunity to read this book, via NetGalley, prior to release on 2 September, in exchange for a fair review.