Friday, August 29, 2008

The Friends of Eddie Coyle by George V. Higgins

The Friends of Eddie Coyle by George V. Higgins
Bantam, Copyright 1972

Before George V. Higgins' debut novel about a small-time Boston hood came out, it could be argued that fictional crime stories took place in a world that was inaccessible to the reader with characters that were distant and in most cases not thoroughly authentic. With "The Friends of Eddie Coyle," he raised the bar and set the new standard for realistic crime fiction. We get a real world of small-time criminals, what they think and how they interact with others. The dialog is strong and gritty, and through this dialog George V. Higgins paints his masterpiece.

"Look," Coyle said, "I can't give him the guys he wants in New Hampshire. You got to call him up and explain that to him. If I do that I am dead, is all there is to it. He can't ask me to go out and commit suicide for him."

The story revolves around Eddie Coyle, a low level criminal who is stuck between a rock and a hard place. He's facing a few years in prison for a bungled illegal trucking job and realizes there is no way he can do the time. The Feds are forcing him to turn over some names, but as a disgruntled informant he has to be careful to avoid suspicion from the Irish-mob and his gun-dealing acquaintances.

Coyle is the central figure, but the story is told mostly through his "friends." It's about criminals and it's written so they come across very real, which helps create a believable story. We are privileged to sneak a look into their unglamorous lives. The way they conspire and converse with one another, delineates all the characters in the novel and this actually thrusts the plot and moves the story. It's stunning and remarkably done.

We are taken into their dark, violent, secretive underworld; through the dreary streets of Boston to its leafless surrounding areas. And along the way we witness Eddie Coyle's struggle with the opposing forces that are squeezing him into making deals he can't afford to make and hoping to avoid the consequences that await him. Things start to move too fast for Coyle and in the end, we discover there is only one way out for him.

An innovative novel and one that after published, changed the way crime fiction would be written from then on.


pattinase (abbott) said...

This is a book I have meant to read for thirty years and haven't.

John McFetridge said...

Very influential book.

A later edition featured an introduction by Elmore Leonard

Anonymous said...

Man, I can still hear the dialogue out of a book I read two decades ago.
"Ever get your fingers slammed in a drawer? It hurts like a bastard."

John Hocking