My love affair with Dennis Lehane's writing goes back a long, long time. While most fans would probably cite his now-classic novel Mystic River (2001) as their favorite, my personal taste always ran even farther back than that, all the way back to his Kinzie/Gerrano series that debuted in 1994. Many of his books, including Shutter Island (2003) and Gone, Baby, Gone (1998) were later made into movies, but Lehane famously refused to have anything to do with the screenplay adaptations of his books saying he had "no desire to operate on my own child."
Screenplays, however, were to play a large role in Lehane's career. In 2004 he joined the HBO television series The Wire as a writer and went on, along with the rest of the talented writing crew, to win the 2007 Edgar Award for Best Television Feature/Mini-Series Teleplay along with the 2008 Writers Guild of America Award for Outstanding Dramatic Series. Still writing novels, by 2013 Lehane was also writing for the HBO series Boardwalk Empire.
So it should come as no surprise to learn that Lehane's latest release, THE DROP, is actually the novelization of his screenplay, a movie he crafted out of a short story he once wrote called "Animal Rescue." The movie was written, filmed, and scheduled to for release in theaters simultaneously with the release of the novel. Quite the marketing gimmick and a neat little coup for Lehane (you've come a long way, baby). The film, starring Tom Hardy and James Gandolfini (final film appearance before his death), will hit theaters in the U.S. on September 12, 2014.
The Drop is, at heart, a simple story. Lehane returns to the streets of Boston where we meet Bob Saginowski, a quiet bartender just trying to make his way through life. Alone, introverted, and preferring to keep it that way, Bob's plans go awry when an abused and abandoned puppy starts to break down the barriers Bob has spent a lifetime building up. In a city where every bar is owned by Chechen gang lords, Bob's life is further disrupted when his boss fails to pay the requisite protection money and another abused and abandoned creature - this time a girl - leads Bob to start standing up for those who can't stand up for themselves.
Weighing in at only a little over two hundred pages, the novel is a short one by Lehane standards, but it packs a powerful punch. With it's seedy Boston setting and Chechen gangs running amok, this is classic Lehane writing that long-time fans will hearken back to Mystic River days (indeed, don't miss the Mystic River reference slyly inserted...brownie points if you find it). The bad guys are very bad indeed, while Bob Saginowski is a classic Lehane anti-hero: understated until the very end when he emerges after an epic battle with his personal moral compass. With a Lehane novel, it is never a question of if the character will win the ethical battle, but a question of how. This is feel-good stuff.
It is a rare occasion I am ever inclined to view a film when a book of this caliber is readily available. In nearly all of those cases, however, the screenplay has been modified from the novel. Here we have a reverse case of the novel being modified from the screenplay. Get thee to the theater.
And don't forget to read the book, too. Especially if you've ever adopted a rescue dog (or, rather, a rescue dog has ever adopted YOU).
Title: The Drop
Author: Dennis Lehane
Publisher: William Morrow
Date: September 2, 2014
Source: Advance review copy provided by the publisher so if I thought it was good I could tell you and if I thought it sucked I could warn you all off. Lucky for them, I thought it was good. This time. Whew.