Tuesday, 26 August 2014

The Drop by Dennis Lehane Review

How’s this for a Russian doll of a book? The Drop started life as a short story called Animal Rescue in a crime anthology before being made into a screenplay/movie called The Drop, and now this is the novelisation of the film; all different forms of the same story, all written by Dennis Lehane! Why not just republish/read the original short story, instead of the novelisation of the film it’s based upon? Well…money is probably the answer!

To be honest though I didn’t read the short story and I haven’t seen the film yet (at the time of writing, it’s due for release in Britain in two and a half months), so I can’t compare this to anything.

One night while closing, Marv’s bar is knocked over by a couple of stick-men, taking what’s in the register. Except it’s a Chechen gangster-owned bar. But, now that it’s been hit, they decide Marv’s place is going to be the drop bar for the Superbowl – a drop off point where bagmen deposit sacks of illegal betting cash to be picked up in one drop by the Chechens. And since Superbowl Sunday is the biggest betting day of the year, the jackpot is potentially millions. Meanwhile, Marv and Bob have to figure out who robbed their bar and get the Chechens’ money back by hook or by crook.

But the novel’s not really about that plot. It’s about Bob, a young-ish guy with a chequered past who’s tired of his sad life. He’s a Boston bartender who hates his job. He goes to church, he lives alone, and he’s sick of being lonely. Then an abused puppy he later names Rocco enters his life and along with him, a damaged woman called Nadia. The novel follows Bob’s slowly changing life after he lets in these two souls that make his own life, as well as theirs, less miserable.

The Drop is bleak. I can’t emphasise that enough - it’s a deeply dark story of evil and/or miserable people doing terrible things to one another. It might be “realistic” - I don’t know about crime life in New England, or anywhere really - but it’s so damn depressing to read! I know “liking” or “rooting” for the main character isn’t the point of great fiction but when I read a book for enjoyment, I actually do want to like the main character and I couldn’t really connect with Bob.

That’s because Bob is a one-note guy. He’s tough, he’s cold - he has to be, I get that, if he isn’t then the neighborhood kills him. But in other Lehane novels like Shutter Island or Moonlight Mile, I cared enough about the protagonist’s stories to want to see them through to the end. For Bob, I didn’t really know exactly what he was aiming for - I don’t think he was aiming for anything really, except survival - and I didn’t really care if he made it or not.

In the film he’s played by Tom Hardy which is actually perfect casting because I can easily see the performance. Have you seen Warrior or Lawless? Hardy’s characters in both of those movies are exactly who I saw as Bob, so it won’t be much of a stretch seeing him play this character with the same level of intensity and detachment. It’s also worth noting that The Drop was James Gandolfini’s last movie, so I’ll be checking it out to see the great man’s final performance.

Though it’s a short novel, The Drop doesn’t have much pace to it and the plot ambles for much of the book. There are short bursts of decent action and one or two brilliant dialogue exchanges between the characters but for the most part this is a weak effort from Lehane who is perhaps suffering from telling this story one too many times at this point. It’s certainly not of the same high quality as his other books like Shutter Island or Moonlight Mile.

The Drop is a forgettable crime novel with a love story awkwardly shoe-horned in. It may be dark and gritty but those qualities don’t immediately make for a great crime story – memorable characters and an engaging plot do, and, unfortunately, The Drop is lacking in both.

The Drop

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