Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Friends of Eddie Coyle by George V. Higgins (1970): Words Like Bullets Bark

With The Friends of Eddie Coyle, his debut crime novel, George V. Higgins offers up a  singularly stunning work of gritty mean-street realism. As a former Massachusetts Assistant U.S. Attorney, his grasp and conveyance of the criminal underworld and its petty denizens - Eddie and friends, of course - is complete. His style rings crystal clear and true, especially in his intuitive understanding of how these men - and some women - speak to one another. Language is a weapon to be carefully discharged with precision after locating one's target, product, or desired outcome, and language is never to be used in an obvious or specific manner - plausible deniability is at the forefront of the speakers' minds. It's all feints and parries and subtexts and diversion. These guys never say what they mean; it is what they don't say that they mean. Fascinating.

If this sounds a tad confusing I can assure you it can be because it took me some months to wend my way through the novel's peculiarities: characters introduced unnamed, passages of dialogue that go seemingly unattributed, and everything the criminals say but don't exactly mean. And cops! Cops who talk like crooks, or not exactly like crooks so you should know they're cops even though Higgins doesn't tell you at first. I can even get lost in discussions over money and guns and cars, none of which I know very well. Oh well: these challenges reward careful reading and of course rereading. An essential crime novel.


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