There is no mistaking the particularity of Lehaneís novelsógritty, acerbic, layered, touched by the black humor of the human predicament, the world a mix of eccentrics, opportunists, assorted petty criminals, the gray areas between morality and reality. Itís Elmore Leonard with an added layer of grit, the ugly facts that draw the line between man and monster, redeem the fallen and sweep the damned into the gutter. Itís the compassion of James Lee Burke and the precise detail of an author wont to capture the life force of a city overrun with crime, with its wide network of crooks, frustrated (sometimes dirty) cops, and cons always on the lookout for a score. Itís Dennis Lehane at his most perfect imperfect.
Much of the action takes place in Cousin Mervís bar, his private domain overtaken by a Chechen mobster who uses the place as a ďdropĒ--a clearinghouse for profits gleaned from hard-luck bettors, losers, and those drawn to the thrill of quick cash. Bob Saginowski, Mervís cousin, bartends at night. Slow to anger and often mistaken for docile, even slow-witted, Bob has no beef with the world, but neither does he expect much from a meager existence, religiously attending morning mass (though not partaking of the sacraments) in a parish soon to be sold to developers. When Bob discovers a beaten puppy in a trash can on his walk home, something shifts in a heart unaccustomed to hope. Bob is urged to keep the dog by Nadia Dunn, who lives in a nearby apartment, an option he might never have considered without her encouragement.
As Bob and Nadia, two outsiders, bond over the puppy now named Rocco, Bob is amazed that his life is assuming a different shape, cautiously hopeful and drawn to the prickly, offbeat Nadia, yet uncertain how to proceed, the need for attachment an unfamiliar element. No matter. The world goes on without regard to Bobís concerns. The bar is robbed at gunpoint of $5,000, and the Chechen gangster demands restitution from Cousin Merv, fair or not. As usual, the plot is more complex than first appears, more shocking and violent and layered with intrigue, not the clever plans of seasoned crooks but the selfish, instinctive grab of the opportunist hoping for a big score. Each chapter slides into place, a row of dominoes ready to fall one into another: a casual killer with a false reputation; a desperate man envisioning life on a South American beach instead of the filthy, snow-slogged streets of Boston; a detective well aware of his own limitations but also uncannily savvy in the ways of criminals; and the stranger who suddenly appears to claim that the dog and the girl are his.
Bob holds still in the center of the storm, pondering what action to take as his life boils down to a critical decision. Replete with the unclaimed detritus of society from which Lehane mines his affinity for capturing both the heart of darkness and the faintest vestiges of hope, the forgotten man takes on heroic, if flawed proportions. Life is more intense closer to the street, the odds tougher, but the rewards are sweet, in perfect balance with the ironies of fate. The humor is, as expected, exquisite.