First, though, it's easy to imagine what a bracing effect the novel's style, almost all dialogue, with bits of elliptical description, must have had when the book appeared the early 1970s. That part still works fine, and it would be interesting to look back at what Elmore Leonard was doing at the time. This was just before he moved over from Westerns to crime novels. Did Higgins influence Leonard?
Second, that dialogue contains some funny lines. My favorite so far:
"`I never been able to understand a man that wanted to use a machinegun,' 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.'"The substance of the dialogue is surprisingly fresh considering that the book was written amid the hangover from the 1960s, and Higgins couldn't help that he was writing during what may have been the most embarrassing fashion era in Western history. He had to describe all those god-awful fringes and suede jackets. But the book's bad-guys-are-people-too message has dated badly, or rather, so many writers have delivered it so much better since that Higgins' version reads today as plodding, rudimentary and ponderous. Dillon's long virtual monologue in Chapter Six is so patently tendentious (It's one of the only parts of the book so far that has no funny lines; that's how we know Higgins is being serious), and it's so damned long that I was tempted to flip ahead – not a good thing in a book of just 150 pages.
Chapter Six certainly slows the story down. I don't know enough about crime writing of the early 1970s to call it a bad piece of writing. Maybe it has just dated badly. I invite friends of The Friends of Eddie Coyle to weigh in, particularly on the chapter in question and on Higgins's role as a pioneer in the bad-guys-are-just-working-stiffs school.
© Peter Rozovsky 2009