The Friends of Eddie Coyle
This is a strange book. I was curious after hearing of its legendary reputation in the crime genre, but if you're new to Higgins, the density of the dialogue is disorienting at first. No run-of-the mill thriller, it could almost be a play, with the action unfolding almost entirely in reported speech. And speech among characters who lie to each other, too. Second or third readings are very well rewarded, however, and I agree with others who rate the book as classic to put alongside The Big Sleep and The Maltese Falcon. To think that this was GVH's publishing debut, at aged thirty two, is pretty staggering and it stands up as an important novel in its own right.
It's a complex tale of a small-time crook and gun-runner, Eddie 'Fingers' Coyle', who is facing jail and is forced to give evidence to the FBI. His 'friends' are a host of criminals in the Boston underworld, not to mention the untrustworthy cops, all of whom are constantly betraying one another. Not a lot is spelled out overtly and the reader has to pay close attention to keep up. GVH always said in defence of his dialogue-heavy novels that the 'characters are telling you the story'.
Still, what dialogue! I don't know how authentic the Boston Irish patois really is, but Higgins had been a lawyer and no doubt got a lot from his clients first-hand. 'Gritty doesn't do justice to the downbeat, jaded atmosphere and GVH's classy street poetry. 'Cinema verite' reported speech: repetitions, non-sequiturs, truly as if you are eavesdropping on real wiretapped conversation. There's no showiness or phony melodrama, though the book's ending is genuinely scary.
The film of the book, directed by Peter Yates plays around with the story, as per usual in movies, but stays true to the seedy, world-weary atmosphere. Outstanding performance from Robert Mitchum in an anti-hero role, (except he is way too charismatic to play Eddie Fingers).