It’s pretty easy for me to say that Dennis Lehane is one of my favorite writers.
I didn’t really know Lehane until a decade or more ago when I saw the paperback version of his 1994 crime novel, “A Drink Before the War,” on the shelf in a bookstore. A gritty private eye story set in Boston, the book was the first of six books that Lehane wrote about Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro.
Let me wax on about Patrick and Angie for a second if you will.
How to describe Kenzie and Gennaro, partners in a Boston private investigations operation? They’re lifelong friends, very seldom lovers and equals in the tough guy department. Through a series of five incredible books, Lehane leads Patrick and Angie through not only nifty crime stories to rival Robert B. Parker’s Spencer at his best but also through gut-wrenching personal trauma.
That’s because Patrick and Angie are more than lifelong friends and partners. They’re also survivors. During the course of five books, Lehane pits Kenzie and Gennaro Investigations against the worst of the worst: Blackmailers, serial killers and child molesters and exploiters. If you saw the movie of the fourth book in the series, “Gone, Baby, Gone,” you got a taste of the harsh yet rewarding story, characters and atmosphere of the book.
I often tell people – always tell them, really – that they should read Lehane’s Patrick and Angie books if they’re in the mood for dark crime drama. And I tell them that the books are dark. Dark, I tells ya.
And I add that the books MUST be read in order: “A Drink Before the War,” then “Darkness, Take My Hand,” then “Sacred,” then “Gone, Baby, Gone,” then “Prayers for Rain.”
The books are certainly my favorite crime novel series of all time and they very well might be the best such series ever.
You might have noticed that I said Lehane wrote six books about Patrick and Angie but I mentioned “five incredible books.” That’s because “Moonlight Mile,” Lehane’s 2010 return to the characters after 11 years, was so disappointing. I wanted Patrick and Angie to come back for so many years … and then read “Moonlight Mile” and understood why Lehane had stopped writing the characters before – I’m guessing – being encouraged to come back by demand from fans like me and a big check from his publisher.
Lehane has certainly written some other terrific thrillers, including “Shutter island” and the very nearly without peer “Mystic River.” If you know those two books – unrelated to the Patrick and Angie books – only from their movie adaptations, do yourself a favor and read the books.
Which brings me to “The Drop,” which is the return to Boston’s mean streets that “Moonlight Mile” just couldn’t be.
“The Drop” – written by Lehane from his own screenplay for a movie that ultimately starred Tom Hardy and James Gandolfini – is the story of Bob, a kind-hearted but lonely Boston bartender working for his distant cousin at his cousin’s bar … which is secretly owned by Chechen mobsters.
After decades of a lonely existence, Bob begins to come out of his shell when he meets Nadia and, with her help, rescues a dog that had been dumped in a trash can. But there’s more to Nadia and the dog than Bob understands at first. Just like there’s more to the the low-life types who circle on the edges of his world, including a menacing stranger who insists that Bob has taken his dog.
“The Drop” isn’t a long book and doesn’t have a complex plot. although there are some twists and turns. It’s a straightforward tale of a likable joe who wants to improve his life – if he doesn’t get killed first.
Best of all, “The Drop” is a great return to the Lehane’s Boston, a world of hustlers and thugs and forces that can come at anyone sideways and change their lives for the better or the worse.