Re: RARA-AVIS: Re: career and peak and George V. Higgins

From: John Williams (
Date: 21 Nov 2001

Mark wrote

- I'm sort of surprised only Mario and I have mentioned George V Higgins. Was he a criminal lawyer that defended the type of people he writes about in his early books? I have recently seen some of his later books usually featuring lawyers as protagonists. If you have read them, do they come close to being as good as his early books? I am willing to read non hard boiled if they are worthwhile

the Jeremiah Healy wrote

> As to George V. Higgins, he was a difficult man to know, so I was never
> privy to any of his own views on his writing prior to his death.

Yes, surely if there is one under-rated writer in modern - not just noir - fiction it is Higgins. For my money The Friends of Eddie Coyle is one of the two or three best novels of the past fifty years. It prefigures an enormous amount of contemporary noir. The use of dialogue was a huge acknowledged influence on Elmore Leonard. And Higgins had hoods talking about trivia before murdering people a good two decades before Tarantino (it is surely no coincidence that the first line of Eddie Coyle refers to a character called Jackie Brown)

It's become conventional wisdom to say that nothing else Higgins wrote was as good - and while that's true inasmuch as Coyle is a masterpiece - there are a whole bunch of other books that aren't far behind. Personal favourites include, in the hardboiled vein - The Digger's Game, Patriot Games and The Rat On Fire - or in his more political vein - Impostors, Outlaws and his own favourite the epic A Choice of Enemies. His last two novels The Agent and particularly his swansong the prophetically titled At End OF Day are both really good books. Of course it's true that the use of dialogue could become stylised - though I defy any writer not to be impressed by the eighty page conversation in a parked car that kicks off Bomber's Law.

To my mind his least satisfying books are his one attempt at a series the Jerry Kennedy novel (Kennedy for the Defence at al ) which tend to the arch.

As to his legal background, Higgins worked for the DA before setting up in private practice as a criminal lawyer. Later he taught creative writing. He was indeed a hard man to know, one who didn't suffer fools gladly, and was for a long time unhappy to be classified as a crime writer (later though he mellowed and once told me that to be thought of in the same league as Leonard or Ross Thomas was fine by him). If anyone's interested in knowing more about Higgins, there's a long interview with him in my book Into The Badlands, along with some rather jaundiced commentary on the fair city of Boston.


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