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Ya Gotta Have Friends

Some people think The Friends of Eddie Coyle is the best crime novel ever.

Book Cover The late and lamented Boston writer George V. Higgins wrote nearly 30 books, most of them pretty good. But none was better than The Friends of Eddie Coyle (Picador), which is being reissued in a 40th anniversary edition with a new introduction by Dennis Lehane.

Set in Boston, Eddie Coyle, a smalltime hood, is being squeezed between hood Jimmy Scalisi, cop Foley, and, of course, his friends. Higgins was a competent plotter, but his forte was as an almost unrivaled dialogist:
“No, I rent this place. I’m a bulldozer driver. I got seasonal work. The owner understands. He thinks I’m the greatest thing since sliced bread.”

“Your wife understand?” Coyle said.

“What you don’t know,” Scalisi said, “it doesn’t bother you. She don’t know.”

“She think you’re off selling magazines,” Coyle said.

“I dunno what she thinks,” Scalisi said. “I told her I hadda go away for a while. She don’t question it.”

“Jesus,” Coyle said, “I gotta talk to you some time. I don’t know how you do it.”

“It’s confidence,” Scalisi said. “You look at them right in the eye and say: Hey, I gotta go away for a while. They’ll buy it.”

“You gotta meet my wife,” Coyle said. “You said that to my wife, she’d get this look on her face. Oh yeah? Like you was trying to sell her a used car. I got to take the time and watch you. That’s the only way.”
Actually, I liked the old introduction by Elmore Leonard, but that is another matter entirely:
What I learned from George Higgins was to relax, not to be so rigid in trying to make the prose sound like writing, to be more aware of the rhythms of coarse speech and the use of obscenities. Most of all George Higgins showed me how to get into scenes without wasting time, without setting up the scene, where the characters are and what they look like. In other words hook the reader right away. I also realized that criminals can appear to be ordinary people and have some of the same concerns as the rest of us.… My take on The Friends of Eddie Coyle, for example—which I have listed a number of times as the best crime novel ever written—it makes The Maltese Falcon read like Nancy Drew.
By the way there was an excellent screen adaptation of Eddie Coyle by Peter Yates with Robert Mitchum and Peter Boyle. If you have never read this great story by George Higgins, you are in for a treat. And if you have read it and you revisit the novel, you are also in for a treat.
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