When I read the first brief review for Dennis Lehane’s The Drop, I scoffed at the mention of a dog changing a man’s life. Now, I’ll be one of the first people to argue for pet adoption, but I don’t want to read a book about it. It would be saccharine and dull, and I can’t be doing with sugary books with no soul. I gave The Drop a chance because Lehane is one of my favorite thriller writers. His books bring Boston—past and present—to gritty life. His characters, always on the wrong side of the law, are amazing as they mete out their own brands of justice. If anyone can write a book in which a dog changes a man’s life that I would actually enjoy, it would be Lehane.
Bob Saginowski is a lonely man. He tends his cousin’s bar, goes to mass on Sunday, but that’s really about it. He doesn’t want to be lonely, but he’s shy and reluctant to talk about his past running with his cousin Marv’s crew. One night, as he walks home from the bar, he hears a dog whimpering. He finds a pitbull puppy, soon to be named Rocco after the patron saint of dogs, hurt at the bottom of a garbage can. He also meets Nadia Dunn. Nadia is suspicious of the man rooting around in her trash can, but she softens enough to help Bob learn how to take care of his dog.
If The Drop had been written by any other author, we probably would have been treated to a heart-warming tale of love and friendship as Bob and Nadia grow close over their bond with Rocco. But this is a Dennis Lehane novel and nothing is ever that simple. Marv’s bar is robbed, putting Marv and Bob in a tight spot between the robbery detectives and the Chechans that actually own the bar and have been using it as a drop point for their money. Then a psychotic man complicates things further. Bob is caught in the middle of all of it, between crazies and mafiosa and cops and his own sense of what is right.
Lehane outdoes himself with his characterizations in The Drop. Crazy Eric Deeds and Marv get a chance to narrate a few chapters while Bob does most of the heavy lifting as our point-of-view character. We get to see why they do the things they do, rather than just have antagonists randomly fuck up Bob’s life for him. Not that you’d sympathize with Marv and Eric after getting their sides of the story. Rather, I ended up feeling more sympathy for Bob. He’s not up against evil for evil’s sake. He’s up against real people who were warped by their circumstances and don’t see any other way to be.
The Drop is a fast, deeply engaging read and only heart-warming in an off-kilter, violent, rough-around-the-edges kind of way.