From the Publisher
“Rings true as a police siren.” The Boston Globe
“The best crime novel ever written--makes The Maltese Falcon read like Nancy Drew.” Elmore Leonard
“Chilling . . . The most penetrating glimpse yet into what seems the real world of crime. . . . Positively reeking with authenticity.” The New York Times Book Review
“Truly a bravura performance. Higgins is a master of colorful street language heard around Boston. Throughout the novel, without quaintness or self-parody, he is able to sustain long arias of criminal shoptalk. . . . A sophisticated thriller.” Time
“First-rate, absolutely convincing, enormously readable.” The Christian Science Monitor
“Simultaneously a brilliant thriller and a cold and convincing business prospectus of felony--a profession that traps both sides, gunmen and policemen, into ceaseless compulsory degardations.” The New Yorker
“The most powerful and frightening crime novel that I have read this year. It will be remembered long after the year is over, as marking the debut of a fine original talent.” Ross Macdonald
“The first thing to know about George V. Higgins' The Friends of Eddie Coyle is that it directly entered the crime-fiction canon upon its 1970 publication. The second thing to know is that it holds up as both a writer's-writer thriller and as popular pulp, with Dennis Lehane introducing Picador's new 40th-anniversary reissue of the novel by heralding it as ‘the game-changing crime novel of the last fifty years'--a moderate claim compared to that of Elmore Leonard, who hails it as the best crime novel period.” Troy Patterson, SLATE
“Weighed and calibrated like the barrel of a pistol. The fact that he's writing about crooks is crucial in some ways, incidental in others. The real subjects here are life's futility and its bleak humor… Elmore Leonard learned from this novel, likewise David Mamet and of course Quentin Tarantino, who saw the narrative virtue in marrying violence to comedies of manners…. Higgins took the tough-guy novel into areas of demented anthropology and re-created a genre.” Richard Rayner, Los Angeles Times
The Barnes & Noble Review
George V. Higgins, who died in 1999 at the absurdly early age of
59, was an American original, a man who made a unique -- and inimitable --
contribution to the development of the modern crime novel. In the course of
his career, which spanned 27 years and resulted in more than 30 books, Higgins
wrote with passion, wit, and a fierce integrity about a wide variety of
subjects: sports, business, politics, the law, the art and craft of writing.
But what he did best -- did better, in fact, than any other novelist before or
since -- was to dramatize the squalid, anything-for-a-dollar lives of the
liars, losers, and two-bit gangsters who inhabited the interstices of his
native Boston. His most famous exploration of that peculiar milieu was The
Friends of Eddie Coyle, which was first published in 1972 and remains, to
this day, an absolute model of its kind.
The eponymous Eddie Coyle is a typical Higgins Everyman, a fringe player
for the Boston mob whose life is spiraling out of control. As the novel
opens, Eddie is 45 years old, unhappily married, and more than a little
desperate. In addition to the usual stress of a life lived on the edge, Eddie
is about to face sentencing for his role in an aborted hijacking that took
place in New Hampshire the year before. Offered a reduced sentence in return
for naming his compatriots, Eddie refused, and he is about to relearn one of the
fundamental lessons of the street: Stand-up guys always end up in jail.
While awaiting sentencing, Eddie continues to scuffle for a buck. His
latest hustle involves purchasing handguns from an ex-Hell's Angel, then
reselling those guns to a local Boston hoodlum, who puts them to use in a
cleverly planned, ultimately tragic series of robberies that Higgins
describes in crisp, authoritative prose. Early in the novel, while taking
delivery of several new weapons, Eddie glimpses a small cache of rifles
-- M-16s stolen from a local military base -- in the trunk of the gun dealer's
car. Seizing this opportunity, Eddie forsakes the unwritten code of the
streets and becomes an informer. He notifies a Boston-based federal agent
about the stolen weapons, trading one man's freedom for what he hopes
will be a lighter sentence. Nothing, of course, works exactly as planned, and
Eddie soon finds himself a marked man, trapped in a web of coincidental
occurrences and conflicting agendas. In the end, he pays for his defection in
a violent, ironic denouement in which a primitive form of frontier justice
Higgins populates Eddie's tawdry little corner of Boston with an
authentic, vividly created assortment of lowlifes, including: Jackie Brown,
the street-smart gun dealer forced to learn what it really means to be a
stand-up guy; Dave Foley, the cynical Treasury agent whose "promises" to his
informants prove glib and insubstantial; Jimmy Scalisi, a professional thief
whose casual mistreatment of his girlfriend has unexpected consequences; and
Dillon, the ubiquitous bartender whose actual role in the shadowy world of
the Boston mob is only gradually disclosed.
Higgins understood these people, most of whom -- criminal tendencies aside
-- are disconcertingly similar to many of "us." They drink too much, worry
about their mortgages, bet more than they can afford on horses and
professional sports, endure combative, often violent, relationships with
their wives and mistresses, and gaze helplessly at the world around them,
wondering why everything has gone so badly wrong. And, of course, they talk,
colorfully and endlessly, about the sometimes horrifying, sometimes hilarious
circumstances of their lives.
It has, by now, become something of a cliché to describe George Higgins
as a "master of dialogue," but that, in fact, is what he was. Higgins's ear
for the rhythms of human speech -- for the shrewd, funny, obscene, discursive
monologues that form the heart of so much of his work -- was uncanny and
unprecedented, and has exerted an influence on the novels and stories of a
great many writers who followed in his footsteps, such as Elmore Leonard,
James Ellroy, David Mamet, and John Gregory Dunne, to name only a few. In
Higgins's novels, dialogue was always the single most important element of
narrative, and it served a variety of functions: illuminating character,
creating a sense of personal and historical context, advancing the often
convoluted plots. No writer in recent years has so effectively utilized the
idiosyncrasies of the human voice. No one, really, has come close.
A few years ago, in one of those eternally popular attempts at creative
list making, mystery connoisseur Otto Penzler asked a number of prominent
suspense writers to name their ten favorite crime novels. Elmore Leonard, who
learned as much from Higgins's distinctive technique as anyone, gave what was
perhaps the most provocative response, placing The Friends of Eddie Coyle in
all ten slots. It's easy, on reflection, to sympathize with Leonard's choice.
George V. Higgins was, after all, that kind of writer, and The Friends of
Eddie Coyle remains that kind of book.
Read an Excerpt
Jackie Brown at twenty-six, with no expression on his face, said that he could get some guns. “I can get your pieces probably by tomorrow night. I can get you, probably, six pieces. Tomorrow night. In a week or so, maybe ten days, another dozen. I got a guy coming in with at least ten of them but I already talk to another guy about four of them and he’s, you know, expecting them. He’s got something to do. So, six tomorrow night. Another dozen in a week.”
The stocky man sat across from Jackie Brown and allowed his coffee to grow cold. “I don’t know as I like that,” he said. “I don’t know as I like buying stuff from the same lot as somebody else. Like, I don’t know what he’s going to do with it, you know? If it was to cause trouble to my people on account of somebody else having some from the same lot, well, it could cause trouble for me, too.”
“I understand,” Jackie Brown said. People who got out early from work went by in the November afternoon, hurrying. The crippled man hawked Records, annoying people by crying at them from his skate-wheeled dolly.
“You don’t understand the way I understand,” the stocky man said. “I got certain responsibilities.”
“Look,” Jackie Brown said, “I tell you I understand. Did you get my name or didn’t you?”
“I got your name,” the stocky man said.
“Well all right,” Jackie Brown said.
“All right nothing,” the stocky man said. “I wished I had a nickel for every name I got that was all right, I wished I did. Look at this.” The stocky man extended the fingers of his left hand over the gold-speckled For mica tabletop. “You know what that is?”
“Your hand,” Jackie Brown said.
“I hope you look closer at guns’n you look at that hand,” the stocky man said. “Look at your own goddamned hand.”
Jackie Brown extended the fingers of his left hand. “Yeah,” he said.
“Count your fucking knuckles,” the stocky man said.
“All of them?” Jackie Brown said.
“Ah Christ,” the stocky man said. “Count as many of them as you want. I got four more. One on each finger. Know how I got those? I bought some stuff from a man that I had his name, and it got traced, and the man I bought it for, he went to M C I Walpole for fifteen to twenty-five. Still in there, but he had some friends. I got an extra set of knuckles. Shut my hand in a drawer. Then one of them stomped the drawer shut. Hurt like a fucking bastard. You got no idea how it hurt.”
“Jesus,” Jackie Brown said.
“What made it hurt more,” the stocky man said, “what made it hurt worse was knowing what they were going to do to you, you know? There you are and they tell you very matter of fact that you made somebody mad, you made a big mistake and now there’s somebody doing time for it, and it isn’t anything personal, you understand, but it just has to be done. Now get your hand out there. You think about not doing it, you know? I was in Sunday School when I was a kid and this nun says to me, stick out your hand, and the first few times I do it she whacks me right across the knuckles with a steel-edged ruler. It was just like that. So one day I says, when she tells me ‘Put out your hand,’ I say, ‘No.’ And she whaps me right across the face with that ruler. Same thing. Except these guys weren’t mad, they aren’t mad at you, you know? Guys you see all the time, maybe guys you didn’t like, maybe guys you did, had some drinks with, maybe looked out for the girls. ‘Hey look, Paulie, nothing personal, you know? You made a mistake. The hand. I don’t wanna have to shoot you, you know.’ So you stick out the hand and—you get to put out the hand you want—I take the left because I’m right-handed and I know what’s going to happen, like I say, and they put your fingers in the drawer and then one of them kicks it shut. Ever hear bones breaking? Just like a man snapping a shingle. Hurts like a bastard.”
“Jesus,” Jackie Brown said.
“That’s what I mean,” the stocky man said. “I had a cast on for almost a month. Weather gets damp, it still hurts. I can’t bend them fingers. So I don’t care what your name is, who gave it to me. I had the other guy’s name, and that didn’t help my goddamn fingers. Name isn’t enough. I get paid for being careful. What I want to know is, what happens one of the other guns from this bunch gets traced? Am I going to have to start pricing crutches?
This is serious business, you know. I don’t know who you been selling to before, but the fellow says you got guns to sell and I need guns. I’m just protecting myself, just being smart. What happens when the man with the four gives one to somebody that uses it to shoot a goddamned cop? I gotta leave town?”
“No,” Jackie Brown said.
“No?” the stocky man said. “Okay, I hope you’re right about that. I’m running short of fingers. And if I gotta leave town, my friend, you gotta leave town. You understand that. They’ll do it to me, they’ll do worse to you. You know that.”
“I know that,” Jackie Brown said.
“I hope you do,” the stocky man said. “I dunno who you been selling to, but I can tell you, these guys’re different.”
“You can’t trace these guns,” Jackie Brown said. “I guarantee it.”
“Tell me how come,” the stocky man said.
“Look,” Jackie Brown said, “these’re new guns, follow me? Proof, test-firing’s all they ever had. Brand-fucking-new guns. Airweights. Shrouded hammers. Floating firing pins. You could drop one of these pieces right on the hammer with a round in the chamber—nothing. Thirty-eight Specials. I’m telling you, it’s good stuff.”
“Stolen,” the stocky man said. “Serial numbers filed off. That’s how I got caught before. They got this bath they drop the stuff in, raises that number right back again. You better do better’n that, neither one of us’ll be able to shake hands.”
“No,” Jackie Brown said. “They got serial numbers. Man gets caught with one of them, perfectly all right, no sweat. No way to tell it’s stolen. Brand-new gun.”
“With a serial number?” the stocky man said.
“You look up the serial number,” Jackie Brown said, “it’s a Military Police model, made in 1951, shipped to Rock Island, never reported stolen. But it’s a brand-new Detective Special. Never reported stolen either.”
“You got somebody in the plant,” the stocky man said.
“I got guns to sell,” Jackie Brown said. “I done a lot of business and I had very few complaints. I can get you four-inchers and two-inchers. You just tell me what you want. I can deliver it.”
“How much?” the stocky man said.
“Depends on the lot,” Jackie Brown said.
“Depends on what I’m willing to pay, too,” the stocky man said. “How much?”
“Eighty,” Jackie Brown said.
“Eighty?” the stocky man said. “You ever sell guns before? Eighty is way too high. I’m talking about thirty guns here now. I can go into a goddamned store and buy thirty guns for eighty apiece. We got to talk some more about price, I can see that.”
“I’d like to see you go into a store and order up thirty pieces,” Jackie Brown said. “I don’t know who you are and I don’t know what you got in mind and I don’t need to know. But I would sure like to be there when you tell the man you got some friends in the market for thirty pieces and you want a discount. I would like to see that. The FBI’d be onto your phone before you got the money out.”
“There’s more’n one gun store, you know,” the stocky man said.
“Not for you there isn’t,” Jackie Brown said. “I can tell you right now there isn’t anybody for a hundred miles that can put up the goods like I can, and you know it. So no more of that shit.”
“I never went over fifty before,” the stocky man said. “I’m not going that high now. You haven’t got that many guys around waiting to take thirty, either. And if these work out all right, I’ll be coming back for more. You’re used to dealing in twos and threes, that’s why you want to deliver three or four times.”
“I can sell fifty tomorrow without ever seeing you,” Jackie Brown said. “I can’t get my hands on them fast enough. I can sell every gun I can get. I bet if I was to go down to the Shrine there and go to confession I’d get three Hail Marys and the priest’d ask me confidentially if I could get him something light he could carry under his coat. People’re desperate for guns. I had a guy last week that was hot for a Python and I got him this big fucking Blackhawk, six-incher, forty-one mag, and he took it like he’d been looking for it all his life. Should’ve seen that bastard going out, big lump under his coat, looked like he was stealing melons. I had a guy seriously ask me, could I get him a few machine guns. He’d go a buck and a half apiece for as many as I could get, didn’t even care what caliber.”
“What color was he?” the stocky man asked.
“He was a nice fellow,” Jackie Brown said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if I was to be able to get something for him in a week or so. Good material, too. M-sixteens in very nice shape.”
“I never been able to understand a man that wanted to use a machine gun,” the stocky man said. “It’s life if you get hooked with it and you can’t really do much of anything with it except fight a war, maybe. You can’t hide it and you can’t carry it around in a car and you can’t hit anything with the goddamned thing unless you don’t mind shooting out a couple of walls getting the guy. Which is risky. I don’t care much for a machine gun. The best all-around item I ever saw is the four-inch Smith. Now that is a fine piece of machinery, you can heft it and it goes where you point it.”
“It’s too big for a lot of people,” Jackie Brown said. “I had a man that wanted a couple of thirty-eights a week or so ago, and I come up with one of those and a Colt two-incher. He liked the Colt all right but he was all edgy about the Smith. Asked me if I thought he was going to go around wearing a fucking holster or something. But he took it just the same.”
“Look,” the stocky man said, “I want thirty guns. I’ll take four-inchers and two-inchers. Thirty-eights, I’ll take a three-fifty-seven mag if I have to. Thirty pieces. I’ll give you twelve hundred.”
“Balls,” Jackie Brown said. “I got to have at least seventy apiece.”
“I’ll go fifteen hundred,” the stocky man said.
“Split the difference,” Jackie Brown said. “Eighteen hundred.”
“I’ll have to see the stuff,” the stocky man said.
“Sure,” Jackie Brown said. His expression changed: he smiled.
Excerpted from The Friends of Eddie Coyle by .
Copyright © 2010 by Dennis Lehane.
Published in May 2010 by Henry Holt and Company.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.