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A Dated Groundbreaker
on August 8, 2002
A seminal book in the world of crime fiction, Higgins' 1970 debut placed maximum emphasis on creating realistic dialogue for the criminals and police and letting that carry a fairly slender plot along. The story concerns a smalltime hood named Eddie Coyle and a loose ring of associates. He's sweating because he's facing a two year stretch, and he can't handle any time at his age (45). The question is, who's he going to throw to the cops in order to duck that time? The story and its resolution are very much in keeping with the dark tone of the early '70s when the nation was realizing Vietnam was unwinnable and hard drugs were getting more and more prevalent, think of films like The French Connection, Badlands, or High Plains Drifter. (I've not seen the 1973 film version of the book, starring Roger Mitchum as Eddie Coyle.)
The book has been greatly lauded for its simplicity, dialogue, and realistic characters. However, my own reading was that everyone in the book (men, women, law, criminals) spoke more or less the same clipped wise guy talk as everyone else, and not only that, but other than talking about the "Broons" (Boston's pro hockey team, the Bruins), there's little that differentiates the speech from that of countless New York and Brooklyn gangsters. So much so that one occasionally has a hard time keeping track of who is who. So, maybe it was revolutionary to reveal the inner woes of criminals back in 1970, but read today, the book lacks the punch it must once have held.