Sunday, September 13, 2015


According to legend, the late Elmore Leonard switched from writing Westerns to a life of crime immediately after reading George V. Higgins's The Friends of Eddie Coyle. It's easy to see what impressed the Dutchman. Coyle is a crime novel, of course, and a good, atmospheric one. Higgins has a way with words and sentences that sets his book above the genre mean. But mostly this is a novel of talking, a book about the way people in a certain milieu (Boston organized criminals and the prosecutors with whom they exist in symbiosis (e.g., the career of James 'White Rat' Bulger)) talk amongst themselves. The story is told almost entirely in dialogue, good, colorful dialogue--as good as David Mamet at his best--and thus we receive the narrative obliquely, akin to the way we receive it in avant-garde fiction (John Hawkes' The Lime Twig , for example, or, more to the point, William Gaddis's JR). We get the whole story, but it's told in pieces by bent people who tell it slant. The Friends of Eddie Coyle is a novel we overhear. Reading it is like listening in on a very high-quality wiretap. I recommend it. (I also recommend the remarkably faithful 1973 film adaptation by Peter Yates, starring Robert Mitchum in the title role and the ubiquitous Peter Boyle as Dillon, the part-time contract hitter who takes Eddie out. There's a beautiful Criterion Collection DVD rentable from Netflix.)

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