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on 17 March 2017
Skilfully written, dialogue-driven, hard-boiled crime story. The snags for me were: not a great story, no particularly sympathetic characters.
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on 6 January 2003
George V Higgins was a Boston lawyer who took to writing; this is his first book. In it he displays his incredibly sharp ear for the many and various patois of the region; it is so precise that I've often wondered if anybody who has not lived in the Boston area and known its many dialects could truly appreciate the way Higgins captures them. Regardless (or, as they might say in Needham, IRregaddless), there are many other qualities to appreciate: his swift characterizations, his knack for suspense, his deft portrayal of criminals at the edge of their competence and the harried cops who chase them.
If you like Elmore Leonard, you'll like Higgins; indeed, Leonard acknowledges Higgins as one of his primary influences. Later in his literary career, Higgins would occasionally get bogged down in experiments with dialogue and plot - triply nested quotations, multiple flashbacks, excessive detail - but he always remained interesting. In this book, he is at his crispest: vital, perceptive, acute. "The Friends of Eddie Coyle" is a classic that deserves to be placed alongside "The Big Sleep" and "The Maltese Falcon".
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on 17 December 2003
The novel is written in dialogue, with very little narrative. This means that you have to work hard to work out the plot. Higgins does not tell you. You are immediatly plunged into the world of a smalltime Boston criminal, Eddie Coyle, as he aims to buy guns for his bank robbing friends, gather useful information to pass on to the police, and stay out of prison for a drink smuggling charge. This seems like a tall order, as he is acutely aware. Previously, Coyle has collected an "extra set of knuckles", after his "friends" shut his fingers in a drawer and kicked it shut(retribution for selling traceable guns).
What is enjoyable about this novel is the sense of eavesdropping on an amoral world. The humour is deadpan and cynical. There is a constant sense of fear and paranoia. The impression that comes through is of the high price to be paid for a life of crime, in terms of mental peace.
Set in the 1970's against a background of student radicalism and racial tension, a bleak portrait of the country emerges. If you like Elmore Leonard, read Higgins to whom he owes an acknowledged debt. The recent film, Mystic River, based on a Dennis Lehane novel and again set in Boston, shares some of the grittiness of this world. It is not an easy read, but it is a thought provoking one.
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on 26 June 2007
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).

A must-read.
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on 6 December 2012
This book has received fantastic reviews, not the least from Dennis Lehane who wrote the introduction. Having read it I must agree that it fulfills a lot of the expectations that these reviews put upon it but not quite.

This is a short book about some low level criminals (ok, some are bank robbers and killers) and their life in Boston in the 1970s. Most of the book, 85%, is dialogue between these persons. It is this dialogue that has become what many believe is a template for later writers and possibly TV shows. It all feels very real and authentic. You will also feel the 1970s since the way these people talked is far more acceptable than how criminals sounds today. Almost no use of words that we today have started to take for normal.

The Problem for me was that I also found it to be slightly boring and without any excitement. The Story is slowly developing but there are no highlights and the end is just another day in criminal Boston.

I can understand that this book became an inspiration for future writers but I have to disagree strongly with Dennis Lehane when he claims it is one of the "four or five best crime novels ever written". It would not make my top 100 list but not being a writer I might have a different point of view. In fact, a number of the books written by Mr Lehane would put this one out of the list.

It was worth reading if for no other reason that it's historical value.
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on 8 July 2002
Eddie's world is in a mess. His "friends" have smashed his hand in adesk drawer because he supplied a gun with a history to another crook;he's taken the rap for a little illciit transport of liquor, and hisattempt to turn informant to secure himself a shorter sentence seems tobe causing him at least as much trouble as his crimes did.As ever, Higgins' characters swim through the murky waters of the Bostonunderworld talking, talking, talking as they go - this is anotherclassic of dialogue and atmosphere. Short, sharp, punchy and colloquial,it's everything Higgins does best distilled into one near-perfect novel.pete
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on 26 January 2013
For me this was more a book to admire than to love. It tells the story almost entirely in dialogue. It is a great achievement. It did take me a while to fully understand what was going on but I quickly picked it up.
This book certainly seems to have had a huge impact on other authors and to have been very influential on Film Directors like Tarentino.

I am glad that I read this but I wouldn't be in a rush to read other books by the author.
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on 9 June 2015
I'm a big fan of Elmore Leonard, and his quote on the front was the reason I bought this book. I have to say I was not disappointed. It was a strange book with a very distinctive flavour. Lots of dialogue which felt very authentic, although as an effete middle-class Brit, I wouldn't really know how authentic it actually is. I sensed George Higgins was enjoying being an impressionist, getting down the speech patterns just right, because a lot of the time what they're saying isn't, on the face of it, hugely interesting. A memorable section of the book is a quite long conversation about cheese sandwiches. He must have influenced Tarantino with these gangster tough guys making lengthy, meandering speeches about mundane things. Sometimes the talking doesn't advance the story, but it is never boring. However there were points early on where I was longing for a bit of description so that I could better distinguish one character from another. Sometimes the story feels like a screenplay.
The strangeness of the book comes from it's uber-masculinity. Everything is about business. Emotion doesn't come into it, unless it's fear. The characters felt almost depth-less and flat, but very real and frightening exactly because of their uncomplicated motives, cold intelligence and lack of sentiment. Like a tank of sharks circling each other. There is no self-deception, no sentimentality, no mixed messages, no sub-text, no ambiguity. Everything is very clear. Everything is what it is. This all meant that it was hard for me to really sympathise or warm to a character, but I still had a great time reading it. The whole experience reminded me of reading a Dennis Cooper story although they don't share much on a superficial level.
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on 10 October 2016
Higgins lets his characters go about their business without the burden of reflection, doubt or regret.

They inhabit a natural world of deceit and scheming; friend and foe alike are told what they want to hear, each successive teller calculates which version of the truth will suit his own purpose (and it is always a 'he', except for Wanda), skimming and priming the listener to act or not act as the teller requires.
The same evasions and power struggles happen in more predictable workplaces everyday but in this workplace, the seedy twilight world of easy money and hard men, the lies are under-pinned by the certainty of ruthless violence, and the law are as callous and treacherous as the outlaws - deals are made, deals are broken, and down in the gutter it doesn't matter.
We follow the action through trailer parks and bars, in Chargers and Roadrunners, shopping centers and parking lots, a soulless landscape for a transient crew.
Higgins doesn't waste his ink on intricate descriptive passages or on overwrought exposition - the characters don't tell us why they do what they do, they just do it, and you can almost smell the cold breath of the cons and crooks as they blaze through their stories. Nobody has time for a crisis of conscience or a shot at redemption. The closest to that is one passage where two bank robbers debate whether it is appropriate to shoot a bank clerk who disobeys a command even when the robbers are already making their exit with the bags of cash or whether such deadly force should be reserved for intimidating the bank staff to hand over the cash in the first place.

Eddie Coyle is a stocky man, Higgins tells us that much, then shows us the hopeless life that is the grimy reality for such men, from such a place, normal men, normal places.

"Is there any end to this s***? Does anything ever change in this racket?"
"Hey Foss," the prosecutor said, taking Clark by the arm, "of course it changes. Don't take it so hard. Some of us die, the rest of us get older, new guys come along, old guys disappear. It changes every day."
"It's hard to notice, though," Clark said.
"It is," the prosecutor said, "it certainly is."
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on 25 November 2014
There is no doubt remaining in my mind, having just read this new age dissertation concerning the joys and tragedies of the American Underbelly in action, that The Friends of Eddie Coyle (TFOEC) is an EXTRAORDINARY READING EXPERIENCE. The late, great Elmore Leonard even went so far as to call it, “The Greatest Crime Novel of all time” – but who am I to argue with Elmore Leonard? Well as the famous song goes, “I am, who I am, who I am” so I guess I have the right to argue with just about anyone.

Anyway, the story and action is so real that it jumps right out at you virtually from the opening sentence. The characters and their use of English language are both so vivid and perfectly pitched that I thought my kindle had magically morphed into a state of the art 3D Smart Television. (Give the folks at Amazon a few years and it probably will!!!). The book is not funny. It is never meant to be. Unless, of course, you know a cop or a bank robber with the same mannerisms or voice inflections that matches the book’s characters. Then it becomes a riot. TFOEC is quite short and flies along at breakneck speed. I had passed the half way mark without even trying which further reinforces the quality of the writing and associated story telling. There is a plot, but it takes a (relative) while – and a back seat to the action - for the reader to figure out the good guys from the bad ones. But the joy is in the reading and the determining. And once you have done that, you will realise in your hands lies a character / dialogue driven masterpiece of 20th century crime literature that could have been constructed by Michelangelo had he picked up a scroll and ink instead of a paintbrush. TFOEC takes the event of reading and morphs it into a joyous experience. For that is the emotion you feel the most each time you sit down to absorb this literary jewel.

TFOEC is unique. It is priceless. But is it “the greatest crime novel ever written”? Well, that is debatable. I would say no but it easily falls into the GREAT category.

But if you ask me the same question in a few years when I have read it at least once, I might give you a different answer.

For now, though, the ball is in your court.

And the basket is wide open.

BFN Greggorio!
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