Read This: The Town by Chuck Hogan

The Town by Chuck Hogan (August 2010 by Pocket Books; originally published as Prince of Thieves – August 2004 by Scribner) – Book to movie adaptations are my catnip. I love seeing how a screenwriter distills a several hundred page book into a movie that still manages to capture the heart and soul of the story.

I saw The Town years ago when it was released in theaters, and I immediately went out and picked up the book. Then it sat on my bookshelf for a while. A very long while. Readers, don’t do this. Don’t make the same mistake I did. Because The Town is cinematic literature at its best.

Growing up in the Boston neighborhood of Charlestown, it’s like Doug and his crew were groomed to become the armored car and bank robbers they are. After a few youthful slip ups, they’ve got their routine down to a science, and each heist runs like clockwork. Right up until the Kenmore Square BayBanks robbery.

That’s the job that changes Doug’s life. Jem, one of Doug’s crew, decides they’re going to take Claire, the branch manager, with them when they leave. They blindfold her, push her into the van, and after driving around for a while, let her go. She doesn’t understand why. Doug doesn’t know why she was there in the first place. But the abduction is a symptom of a much larger problem within the crew, a disease that spreads faster once Jem realizes Doug’s thinking of getting out of the life. There’s one more heist in them, though, one last haul that will go down in history if they can pull it off: Fenway Park.

Doug’s juggling too many balls – keeping the FBI off their tail, restraining Jem, trying to become a better man for Claire. If he’s not careful, he’ll drop them all, and the fallout could be devastating.

The Town is Doug’s story. He’s such a rich character, so flawed and real, that I wanted to smack him upside the head multiple times. He’s the glue that holds the crew together; he’s the brains behind their heists. He’s insecure, he’s wicked smart, he wants someone to be better for. It’s hard to tell if he wants Claire, or what she represents – the chance to be someone other than who he’s become, to be with someone who knows all of the dark places in his heart and still wants him.

While we never get Jem’s point of view, we don’t need it. He’s a guy with two speeds: manic and charming. And the division between the two is slim, and both have a lethal edge to them. A stiff breeze could probably piss him off enough to start a fight. The energy between Doug and Jem crackles with a tension rigged to explode. Doug resents the hold Jem has over him, and Jem hates Doug for the choices he’s making. (And as a side note, the casting of Jeremy Renner as Jem was spot on. Spot. On.)

The way Hogan weaves Doug’s journey toward redemption with the life he can’t quite leave behind is clever and fast-paced, and the way he places the Town itself as a central character is pretty close to brilliant. You get the sense that if these guys had been raised someplace else, anywhere other than this one square mile collection of houses and businesses and streets, their lives would have been different.

When I read the last few chapters, I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough. The climax is one that had dread pooling in my stomach the closer I got to the end, and when it was all over, I wanted to go back and re-read it, for all the little details I’d missed the first time around. Read the book, then watch the movie – and then read the book again.

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