Archive for the ‘Dennis Lehane’ Category

Two days after Christmas, as Bob Saginowski is walking home from his late night shift at TheDropCousin Marv’s Bar, he hears whimpering emanating from a garbage can. Investigating, he finds under the debris, a bleeding, obviously beaten puppy. Nadia, the occupant of a nearby house offers to help clean up the puppy, ultimately named Rocco after the Patron Saint of dogs. Both lonely, Nadia and Bob soon form a relationship. When the bar, previously owned by Bob’s cousin Marv but now owned by brutal Chechen mobsters and used as a drop for mob cash, is robbed the following night, the Chechens strongly advise Marv and Bob to recover the money or suffer serious consequences. To make matters worse for Bob, the dog’s psychotic previous owner, Eric, wants it back and threatens Bob, Nadia and Rocco. It is the relationship among all these characters that drives the plot.

Let me start by saying I’m a big Dennis Lehane fan. I love his mysteries and the characters. His historical fiction is good. The Given Day is a phenomenal book. So I was excited to get an advance copy of The Drop.

The Drop is an expansion of the Lehane story, Animal Rescue, included in the book boston noir. It was a disjointed story to begin with, however, and all he did was transform it into a disjointed novel. Bob, Nadia, Marv and Eric all harbor deep, dark secrets and desires. Unfortunately, that doesn’t make them overly interesting. The predictable plot and ending contain little ‘noir’ and less suspense.

There are changes that Lehane made from the short story that don’t seem significant. For instance, The Drop takes place after Christmas; Animal Rescue after Thanksgiving. Why change it?

There are oblique references to the short story, as well. In Animal Rescue the dog is named Cassius, after Cassius Clay. In The Drop, Bob mentions that he almost named the dog Cassius instead of Rocco. I’m sure that was for his own amusement, but I didn’t find it funny.

I seem to be the only one who was dissatisfied with this book. All the reviews are glowing and I didn’t realize that they made a movie out of it.

But, sadly, The Drop fell far short of my expectations. I will not follow the crowd on this one.

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NorthOfBostonNorth of Boston is a debut novel by Elisabeth Elo. Although a few elements were a little simplistic (i.e., the escape), this is a good first novel in what I hope will be a series. What grabs you right away is the main character, Pirio Kasparov, heir to a prominent perfume company, who is cynical, caring, tough yet sensitive, rebellious.

Pirio decides to do her friend Ned Rizzo a favor and help out on his lobster boat one Saturday. It’s a dark, foggy day. You can barely see from one end of the boat to the other. All of the sudden a ship is looming, not in the distance, but close by. It literally cuts the tiny lobster boat in half. In the seconds before impact, Ned tells Pirio to jump, thereby saving her life and losing his.

Everyone initially seems to think it was an accident. But as events begin to play out, it looks more and more like a deliberate act.

Elo combines an action packed, smartly written story with memorable characters, Pirio, Parnell, a journalist, Thomasina who was Pirio’s roommate and best friend starting in boarding school, and Noah, Thomasina’s ten year old son by Ned. Every character, including the ancillary ones, such as Milosa, Pirio’s father and Maureen, Milosa’s wife are important, given depth and personality.

Elo’s subject, illegal whaling, is something new for mystery buffs. The secondary subplot, perfuming, is also a new aspect to mysteries and Pirio’s enhanced olfactory senses come in handy in catching a killer.

Elo’s got stiff competition in the Boston based mystery genre: Robert Parker, Dennis Lehane, Linda Barnes, Jeremiah Healy. But she holds her own quite nicely.

I’ll admit that I skimmed a page or two when I wanted to move ahead and skipped a page or two related to killing whales or beating up Pirio (my sensitive nature couldn’t handle it), but on the whole, Pirio Kasparov and Parnell could develop into a really good mystery series. Give this one a try.

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Visitation Street is the second book published under Dennis Lehane’s new imprint at Harper Collins. My feeling: VisitationStreetif it’s good enough for Dennis, it’s good enough for me. That can be a dangerous philosophy but in this particular case, it worked quite well. I don’t think I’m ruining anything by saying that two fifteen year old girls take a rubber raft out on the bay at the end of Red Hook in Brooklyn and only one comes back.

Is there a mystery? Sure. But is that what makes this story so good? Not at all. Ms. Pochoda has explored a way of life; the life in Red Hook through several characters that interact with and have an impact on Valerie, the girl who returns. Through these characters, Ms. Pochoda portrays the evident racial divide in Red Hook, the secrets that people hold inside and the reasons for their actions, and the yearnings that they have for a life different than the one they’re living.

As in life, some of the characters are sad examples of what we do to ourselves, some striving for better and some are just so lost.

I started reading this book in fits and starts but that wasn’t doing it justice. When I finally had time to sit and really read, I got sucked in big-time. I didn’t want to put this book down. I suggest that you do the same…find a length of time to read.

Ms. Pochoda can certainly turn a phrase. For instance, describing what a summer’s night in Red Hook is like, “It’s a hot night in a calendar of hot weeks.” Describing a ceiling in the projects, “He opens his eyes to the water map on the ceiling, the brown and yellow bubbles tracing the pathways of his upstairs neighbor’s leaky plumbing.” Or describing Valerie at the entrance to the Tabernacle Church, “They take in her uniform and her lanky frame–her pale skin and unremarkable hair. A drab piece of flotsam lost in a sea of Sunday color.”  To me, that’s good writing.

My only criticism, and it’s minor. There’s a small map of Red Hook at the beginning of the book. I figured that bigger is better so I did an internet search for a street map of Red Hook. However, with the map in hand, I still couldn’t quite grasp which way the characters were going and what was where in Red Hook. Was it important? Probably not, but as an anal-retentive, and since the book was equally about the place as well as the characters, I wanted to get the entire experience. Don’t let this bog you down, though.

As an aside: I didn’t realize that I travel through Red Hook when I go visit the kids in Brooklyn. Who woulda thunk?

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Dennis Lehane follows up his blockbuster historical novel, The Given Day, with Live by Night, which is a narrative of Joseph Coughlin’s life of crime from 1926-1935. Joseph, as you may recall, is Boston Police Department Deputy Superintentent Thomas Coughlin’s son in The Given Day. Joseph, a small time hood, is involved in a bank heist, in which three policemen get killed in the ensuing car chase. While Joseph escapes, he is later recognized and captured (and beaten to a pulp) by policemen, following Thomas’ orders.

While in prison, he meets and impresses mob boss Maso Pescatore. When Joseph is released, Maso sends him to Tampa to revive an ailing illegal bootlegging business, which he does quite nicely.

But it’s not the story that makes Live by Night worth reading, for the story is uncompelling, at least to this reader. It is the characters and their limits. Joseph would rather be deemed a gangster than an outlaw, the distinction being one commits murder and one doesn’t. The Tampa police chief, Irv Figgis, is OK with illegal rum running as long as it’s on the outskirts of his town. Thomas Coughlin, after living a life of graft, is faced with becoming a lackey of Maso in order to protect his son in prison. What are his limits? Local businessmen, pillars of the community, hidden underneath white cloaks, commit outrageous acts of violence. The bigotry in a region inhabited by whites, Cubans, Spanish and Blacks is blatant. The treatment of women is appalling, especially women of color. Many will try to counter these inhumane acts with acts of humanity. Does one offset the other? It is Lehane’s description of people and the times that make Live by Night another must read.

It is a father’s love for a child (Thomas and Joseph, Irv and his daughter Loretta, Jospeh and his son Tomas) and the extent and nature of that love that makes Live by Night worth reading. Some of us grew up with undemonstrative or even mean parents, especially fathers, yet knew how much we were loved. Some may know what happens to a parent when a child is hooked on drugs. Some may know the sheer joy in a father’s eye upon the mere sight of his child. Lehane explores this as well.

If you’re in the mood for a good story, Live by Night will entertain you. If you are in the mood to understand what makes people tick, Live by Night will give you material to think about.

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