Book Review: The Friends of Eddie Coyle, George V. Higgins

 Cover shows a man in a skull cap pointing a gun and a police car THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE, written by George V. Higgins (1939 to 1999) and published in 1970, is a non-romanticized look at the criminal underworld set in 1970’s Boston. In his bio, George V. Higgins was a lawyer and a journalist. He wrote what he knew when it came to prosecuting criminals. The realistic depiction of the mob, in the most unflattering third person narrative read more like a true crime story to me. This was a fast read with excellent dialogue and memorable characters. The introduction to this story was written by Dennis Lehane, who wrote that this novel was a “game changer.”

Eddie “Fingers” Coyle is a small time gunrunner working for the mob. He got his nickname from getting his hand smashed in a drawer for a mistake he made in providing guns he bought from somebody that got one of his mob buddies arrested.

When we meet the middle-aged Eddie Coyle, he’s distressed about a criminal charge. He was convicted a month ago for trucking 200 cases of Canadian Club that wasn’t his and is looking at jail time. With three kids and a wife, he wants to avoid prison. He asks what he can do to make the charge go away.  Federal agent, Dave Foley wants Eddie to turn informant. Eddie gives Foley a tip on a young up and coming gunrunner selling machine guns and M-sixteens.

“Well,” the stocky man said, “suppose we were to talk about some machine guns.”

“Just to change the subject, ” the driver said.

“Yeah, ” the stocky man said. “Suppose you had a reliable informer that put you onto a colored gentleman that was buying some machine guns. Army machine guns, M-sixteens. Would you want a fellow like that, that was helping you like that, would you want him to go to jail and embarrass his kids and all?

The second thread involves some bank robberies. A slew of them and by the same gang, where their m.o. involves slipping into the homes of bankers, taking them hostage and accompanying them to the bank to empty out the vault. Much of this thread was not very clear especially on who the bank robbers were until you get closer to the end. They rob four banks in total, mostly with some success. Complications arise eventually and I was waiting for it to happen and wasn’t disappointed.

Eddie Coyle has made some mistakes and his time has probably passed. His character was not written without a touch of sympathy for his circumstances. With that said, Eddie’s not interested in going straight or being reformed. He’s only interested in saving himself from serving time. And it isn’t until you read the last two sentences at the end of the book that you understand why the author wrote this story in the first place. It’s the ever revolving door of organized crime where you see the same crimes but with different faces.

“Some of us die, the rest of us get older, new guys come along, old guys disappear. It changes everyday.”

The era of the 1970’s is rendered well between these 192 pages. The FBI’s focus on the Panthers, the militants and to some extent, the mafia. Moving on. On TV there’s mention of the David Frost show. Soundtrack wise, there’s Johnny Cash singing about Folsom Prison and as for sports, there’s the mention of hockey and the Boston Bruins and Bobby Orr who led the team to winning the Stanley Cup in 1972. There’s a decent sense of time and place. While the story contains violence, it is not pervasive or all that graphic. I enjoyed the scenes with the FBI agents, their interactions with Eddie Coyle and one other snitch who goes by Dillon, whose role in the story stayed mostly hidden to the end.

I must say I had my heart in my throat as the story came to its conclusion. This is a short story that packs a hell of a punch. Closed the book with a touch of sadness. THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE is dark and chilling. It is the non-romanticized portrayal of the mob and street crime in general. To paraphrase Dennis Lehane from the introduction of the 40th Picador edition, Higgins didn’t glamorize the police or the thugs who inhabit this world. The tone of this story was more in line with being direct and written with some authenticity   I’m glad to have read this excellent crime novel. My grade is an solid A. No surprise here since I love this genre and these types of books. This is a novel of significant importance in the genre and a must read for all mystery readers.

The movie version of THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE, directed by Peter Yates and released in 1973, starred Robert Mitchum as Eddie Coyle. For once, I think I’d like to watch the movie since it’s free on Amazon Prime.

Source: I bought this one + several more

The Friends of Eddie Coyle (Kindle), 192 pages, $8.89, the price of a trade paperback maybe?

Up next: Shirley Kennett’s police procedural, Time of Death, book five in the PJ Gray series.

About Keishon

I love reading crime fiction.
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6 Responses to Book Review: The Friends of Eddie Coyle, George V. Higgins

  1. Keishon – This does sound like a powerful story. And it shows that a story does not have to be long to be absorbing. I’m glad it worked so well for you. And yours is not the first ‘rave’ review I’ve read of this one. It really does sound like a ‘must read.’

    • Keishon says:

      Hope you’ll give it a shot? It really is an excellent read. I’m such a contrarian but I’ve found the last three books that are deemed classics by other well read readers to be quite accurate.

  2. Eddie Coyle is a stone-cold classic. Cogan’s Trade and Digger’s Game are almost as good, but Higgins spent most of his career trying to better this novel – and, alas, failing.

    • Keishon says:

      I bought Digger’s Game and will look up Cogan’s Trade. I don’t expect him to beat this book but I did like his voice enough to read more of his backlist. Thanks!

  3. TracyK says:

    I have been looking forward to your review of this book, so I could get your take on it. This is a book I avoided reading in the past because I have heard it is mostly dialogue and I don’t like books that are heavy in dialogue. But my tastes have changed and I think I should give it a try.

    Also looking forward to the review of the book by Shirley Kennett. I haven’t heard of that author and police procedurals are one of my favorite types of mysteries, along with spy fiction.

    • Keishon says:

      Hey Tracy, no this wasn’t heavy in dialogue. I like a good balance, too. As for Shirley Kennett, I read her in the early 1990’s and enjoyed them for the most part. I’m just trying to catch up with her P.J. Gray series again. Thanks and hope you’re having a fabulous weekend and thanks for answering my questions regarding Christopher Fowler. Looking forward to reading him finally!

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