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the drop

8 february 2022

After reading the novels of George V. Higgins at a steady pace last year, turning to Dennis Lehane's The Drop is like suddenly watering down a drink. Lehane's setting, like Higgins', is noirish New England, his characters are guys who do things to other guys, and his plot is twisty and ironic. Yet by comparison The Drop's language is only mildly obscene, its worst events gory yet formulaic, and its heart mushily centered on a dog that you know from the start will emerge unharmed.

To be fair to Lehane, I don't think he was undertaking to outdo George V. Higgins when he wrote The Drop. The novel seems to have been planned as a short story (for Akashic's Boston Noir volume) and indeed the novel publication in 2014 accompanied a feature film starring Tom Hardy, as if the book were a novelization of itself. The Drop is good entertainment. It does its job professionally and does not outstay its welcome.

The protagonist of The Drop is Bob Saginowski, who tends bar for his Cousin Marv. Marv was once a gangster of modest achievements, but now just runs a front for Boston's Chechen mob, which makes Bob a stooge's stooge. In the bargain, Bob is single, lonely, loaded with Catholic guilt, and painfully shy. But Lehane does establish early, if somewhat mechanically, that Bob is not to be fucked with – a character note that, like Chekhov's gun, we know will come into play before long.

The inciting event comes right at the start: Bob finds an abused, abandoned dog. A square-peg young woman named Nadia helps him nurse the dog back to health, and gives Bob hope that his years of loneliness may finally be over. At least till a homicidal maniac named Eric Deeds shows up and says the dog is rightfully his.

Meanwhile, Chechen mobsters, heist-minded idiots, and a shrewd detective named Torres who happens to be one of Bob's fellow parishioners circulate around the central dog story. No spoiler, as I've said, to reveal that Bob and his dog will win out: the fun is in seeing how.

Lehane, Dennis. The Drop. New York: Morrow [HarperCollins], 2014. PS 3562 .E426D76