Saturday, August 22, 2009

Eddie Coyle's best friend

Partisans of George V. Higgins' The Friends of Eddie Coyle sprang to its defense last week when I wrote that some parts of the novel had aged badly. It turns out that one of the book's most ardent defenders was lurking right here all along.

The superlatively talented Bill James, author of the Harpur and Iles novels, told your humble blogkeeper in June that "the one book that influenced me above all was The Friends Of Eddie Coyle, by George V. Higgins, for its dialogue and its subtle treatment of the fink situation."

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Anonymous Bob Cornwell said...

The great Bill James is consistent in his support for Higgins. In 2006 I put together a small 50 page booklet to celebrate the 50th issue of the British magazine CADS (Crime and Detective Stories). Under the general heading Private Passions, Guilty Pleasures, the idea was to celebrate, like the magazine, those under-appreciated, neglected or out-of-print writers who have nevertheless left an unmistakable footprint in the genre that we love. 89 crime writers, critics and fans responded. And the two writers who were cited most often (as a Private Passion, not a Guilty Pleasure!) were Margery Allingham and George V. Higgins.
Higgins has also been cited as a key influence by other writers such as David Mamet, John Gregory Dunne and Mordecai Richler. Elmore Leonard, in his introduction to the 2000 re-issue of The Friends of Eddie Coyle, described it as “the greatest crime novel ever written" and said "he doesn’t learn from me, I learn from him.” In the UK, amongst others, John Harvey is a great admirer. Michael Dibdin used passages from Trust (1989) in his 1993 anthology of crime writing to illustrate the proposition “that good crime writing is good writing.” Does good crime writing “date badly”? I don’t think so...
By the way, Peter, I was astonished to find that my disagreement with you over what is funny in Chapter 6 of Eddie Coyle, was interpreted by you as “a personal attack”. Over here, my remarks would be regarded as falling within the framework of vigorous debate. No offence was intended.

August 26, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I realized how staunchly Bill James supported Higgins when I reread my interview with James. Here's the full version of the quotation I reproduced in part in this post:

"I’ve said it boringly often, but the one book that influenced me above all was The Friends Of Eddie Coyle, by George V. Higgins, for its dialogue and its subtle treatment of the fink situation."

The fink influence is more apparent to me than is the dialogue influence, but still. Anything the great Bill James says is worth considering. And vanity makes me glad that I guessed Higgins might have influenced Elmore Leonard.

I asked Bill James what else was happening in crime fiction at the time he began the Harpur & Iles series. I'd ask the same question if I were preparing an article on Higgins: What else was going on at the time? Why did his book have the effect it did? I did not ask such questions because my post intended to convey an impression and made no effort to establish a context. Perhaps further reading of Higgins would deepen my appreciation of his innovations. But I'll still maintain that parts of The Friends of Eddie Coyle have dated badly. If Higgins' humanistic treatment of hoods has frayed a bit around the edges, this would not diminish his achievement in setting such treatment on the page any more that it would diminish Shakespeare to suggest that Hamlet is a bit long.

Over here -- at my writing desk, that is -- the use of the second-person pronoun in "sometimes I wonder about your sense of humour" was a subtle clue that the attack was personal -- mild, yes, but they don't call them personal pronouns for nothing. Or perhaps I'm just too protective of my sense of humor.

August 26, 2009  

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