George V. Higgins (1939–1999)

“Dialogue is character and character is plot.” George V. Higgins
Vintage, 2011
The movie, directed by Andrew Dominik, is adapted from George V. Higgins's bestselling novel Cogan's Trade (1974) and stars Bad Pitt as mob-enforcer Jackie Cogan, who investigates a heist that occurs during a high stakes poker game. The film also features Scoot McNairy, Ben Mendelsohn, Ray Liotta, Richard Jenkins, James Gandolfini, Vincent Curatola, Max Casella, and Sam Shepard.


Anthony Lane, in the New Yorker, affirmed what FOGVH have been thinking for years:
“Why haven’t more movies stolen from George V. Higgins? He died in 1999, but his work remains a trove, begging to be raided for linguistic loot. …”


Ty Burr, in the Boston Globe, hailed “a bleakly comic, brutally Darwinian gangland sagaHiggins, of course, was probably the best crime novelist this city has produced—Dennis Lehane would be the first to agree—and he’s the source for what’s still the best Boston crime movie, 1972’s The Friends of Eddie Coyle. Killing Them Softly is based on the 1974 novel Cogan’s Trade, which, like all Higgins’s books, is steeped in local flavor. When someone gets a beating in Trade, it’s not just in a parking lot but in the parking lot behind the old Stearns department store off Route 9 in Chestnut Hill. A hood meets a contract killer not at any restaurant but at Jacob Wirth’s on Stuart Street (the menu is discussed). It’s the kind of book where your fingers smell like stale beer just from turning the pages.


Vintage Books has reissued Cogan’s Trade along with ten other novels by George V. Higgins (Google Play; Amazon.com; iTunes; B&N; IndieBound; etc.). Orion (UK) reissued Cogan and six other Higgins titles, in electronic and/or paperback format(s), to tie in with the release of Killing Them Softly in Great Britain. Foreign publishers around the world have reissued Cogan: Chinese (simplified: Shanghai Translation; complex: Big Apple); French (Lafon), German (Verlag Antje Kunstmann), Hungarian (Cartaphilus), Italian (Einaudi), Japanese (Hayakawa), Korean (Screenseller), Polish (C&T), Russian (Azbooka), Serbian (Laguna), Spanish (Asteroide), and Bulgarian (Locus). Audible.com issued a newly recorded unabridged audio version of Cogan and relicensed 8 other Higgins titles on its backlist (available on iTunes, Audible/Amazon, etc.).


Foreign rights in George V. Higgins's books are managed by the Marsh Agency in London (or contact LaFarge).  


Pitt Slays Them, Though Not So Softly (New York Times, November 28, 2012)
By JACOB BERNSTEIN. Brad Pitt stood on the red carpet with Andrew Dominik, the director of Killing Them Softly, which had its premiere Monday night at the SVA Theater in Chelsea.


The movie of The Friends of Eddie Coyle was reissued on DVD by Criterion in 2009. Read/hear appreciations on WBUR and the Boston Globe.


If you turn on your television and just happen to catch an ad for the newest Brad Pitt film, Killing Them Softly, it should look like a fairly familiar movie. There's a tough guy (Pitt) who has to find the people responsible for robbing a mob-staked …


Andrew Dominik's Killing Them Softly has, from a conversational standpoint, one of the finest screenplays of the last few years. It is a relatively low-key crime drama, filled with crusty character actors doing chewy character turns. But more …


The movie rights to The Rat on Fire are free again (it was a bit complicated for a while, as Alex Beam enjoyed reporting).


The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1972)
The Digger’s Game (1973)†*^
Cogan’s Trade (1974)†*^
A City on a Hill (1975)
The Friends of Richard Nixon (1975)
The Judgment of Deke Hunter (1976)
Dreamland (1977)
A Year or So with Edgar (1979)
Kennedy for the Defense (1980)†^
The Rat on Fire (1981)†*^
The Patriot Game (1982)†*^
A Choice of Enemies (1984)
Old Earl Died Pulling Traps: A Story (1984)
Style vs. Substance: Boston, Kevin White, and the Politics of Illusion (1984)
Penance for Jerry Kennedy (1985)†^
Imposters (1986)
Outlaws (1987)†*^
The Sins of the Fathers (1988)
Wonderful Years, Wonderful Years (1988)
The Progress of the Seasons (1989)
Trust (1989)†^
On Writing (1990)
Victories (1990)
The Mandeville Talent (1991)
Defending Billy Ryan (1992)†
Bomber’s Law (1993)†
Swan Boats at Four (1995)
Sandra Nichols Found Dead (1996)
A Change of Gravity (1997)
The Agent (1998)
At End of Day (2000)†*^
The Easiest Thing in the World: The Uncollected Fiction of George V. Higgins (ed. Matthew J. Bruccoli) (2004)
†Vintage (US), 2011/12
*Orion (UK), 2012
^Audible.com


The Friends of George V. Higgins
“The Balzac of the Boston underworld. ... Higgins is almost uniquely blessed with a gift for voices, each of them ... as distinctive as a fingerprint.” —The New Yorker


“There are few people who write as well as George and no one who writes quite like him. ... As Duke Ellington once said about music, there are only two kinds—good and bad. Higgins was good.” —Robert B. Parker


“George V. Higgins was an American original and a writer of lasting importance.” Scott Turow


“Higgins is my favorite. ... No, he doesn't learn from me, I learn from him.” Elmore Leonard


“For the past thirty years the greatest novelists writing in English have been genre writers: John le Carré, George Higgins, and Patrick O’Brian.” —David Mamet (New York Times, January 17, 2000)


“The novelist Elmore Leonard and the playwright David Mamet—themselves masters of the dialogue form—praised his idiomatic, masculine dialogue and said it had influenced their work.” New York Times (obituary, 11/9/99)


“Aspiring writers of any genre, not just legal suspense, would be wise to read lots of George Higgins.” John Grisham


“Always readable, always entertaining, the lowlife’s Boswell—no one else was ever quite like him.” —Philadelphia Inquirer


“A writer of Balzacian appetite ... the poet of Boston sleaze ... confident and totally convincing. ... If the unassuming Higgins doesn't belong in the very front of contemporary novelists (say, Saul Bellow, Walker Percy, Toni Morrison, John Updike), he doesn't lag far behind either." Mordecai Richler


“Completely original ... technical virtuosity ... an absolutely pitch perfect ear for the way real people, cops and criminals, really talk ...earned a permanent place in our literary history.” George Garrett


“Higgins belongs alongside Hammett, Chandler and Ross Macdonald.” —Philip French, The New Statesman (UK)


“No other living crime writer bucks the formulas or generates tension in quite the same way.” —Matthew Coady, The Guardian (UK)


“There can't have been such a true ear for the spoken word since the young [John] O'Hara stalked Fifth Avenue.” —George Duthie, The Scotsman


“Posing as a tough-guy documentarian, Higgins is an experimental virtuoso.” —Walter Clemons, Newsweek


“He was vitality itself. He spoke as brilliantly and wittily as he wrote.”John Silber (president emeritus, Boston University)


“Higgins was one of the great crime writers of the twentieth century. He will be missed.” Kansas City Star


“Higgins was a bril­liantly clever, savagely bitter observer of society. His death is a severe loss.” Atlantic Monthly


“It’s a sin and a shame that George V. Higgins never won the Pulitzer Prize.” Seattle Times


“Nobody talks the talk like the late George V. Higgins. His mas­tery of the patois of the Boston criminal class is legendary.” San Jose Mercury News


The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1972)
“The game changing novel of the last fifty years ... quite possibly one of the four or five best crime novels ever written. No one, before or since, has ever written dialogue this scabrous, this hysterically funny, this pungently authentic—not Elmore Leonard, who cites this novel as a primary influence, not Richard Price ... Open any page of this novel and you will find vast riches of the spoken word. ... Here’s to Eddie Coyle. As with his creator, we’ll never see his like again.” —Dennis Lehane


“An exciting book, composed of hard, clean prose about hard, rough characters--and hard to put down once you begin reading it.”Gay Talese


“The most powerful and frightening crime novel I have read this year. It will be remembered long after the year is over, as marking the debut of a fine original talent.”Ross Macdonald


“Truly a bravura performance.” Time


“Higgins emerges as a new boss of bullet-letters. . . . He can plot a whole book like one long chase scene. He can write dialogue so authentic it spits.” Life


“A brilliant thriller . . . the No. 1 Fast Read of the winter.” The New Yorker


“What dialogue: Higgins may be the American writer who is closest to Henry Green. What I can’t get over is that so good a first novel was written by the fuzz.”Norman Mailer
“The best crime novel ever written.”Elmore Leonard


“[Elmore] Leonard, once asked to name the ten greatest crime novels of all time, would name only one, The Friends of Eddie Coyle.—Bruce DeSilva, New York Times (August 20, 2000)


“One of the best of its genre I have read since Hemingway's The Killers.” —Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, The New York Times


“One to put beside the best American rough writing of the last forty years.” —Julian Symons, The Sunday Times (London)


The Digger's Game (1973)
“[Higgins is] the best American crime novelist now at work.” —Time


“Higgins writes about the world of crime with an authenticity that is unmatched.”Jonathan Yardley, Washington Post


“Flawless of its kind---never a false word, phrase, rhythm, gesture.” —The New Republic


The Digger's Game is more than a thriller. It is an American novel of drive and imagination.”William Hogan, San Francisco Chronicle


Cogan’s Trade (1974)
“George V. Higgins is the master stylist of the current generation of serious thriller writers. Cogan's Trade is a brilliant exposition of Higgins’s Boston underworld as the flip side of all respectable lives of desperation. As a thriller it is that taut story whose drama is heightened by our own understanding of how it has to end.” —Washington Post Book World


“A masterly description of a lonely, brutal, and insecure world … and like all fine thrillers, it has a metaphoric quality as well. … It should make a reflective reader grateful.” Wall Street Journal


“Another gripping plunge into Boston’s underworld. This is real crime, with its chanciness, its rawness, its carelessly dirty talk tape-recorder true.” The Times (London)


“The ultimate in hard-boiled gutter fiction.” Boston Globe


“About as perfect as anything an American writer has done in years. It's absolutely flawless. ... All his books attain a high order of craftsmanship.”John Gregory Dunne
“If John Le Carré captures the world of spies, George V. Higgins grabs the lifestyle of the American underworld by the throat. In Cogan's Trade he superbly re-creates the world of minor gangsters.” Daily Mirror (UK)


“A superb novel. . . His work will be read when the work of competing writers has been forgotten.” Chicago Daily News


“This is real crime with the chanciness, its rawness, its carelessly dirty talk tape-recorder true.” —H.R.F. Keating, The Times (London)


“A superb novel that happens to be about criminals. ... George V. Higgins is a complete novelist. The publication of his third novel will elicit reviews designating him the best crime novelist now writing. But this begs the question of Higgins's real stature. ... His ability to command the reader's confidence defines his achievement. He knows what he is writing about. .. He makes us believe in his work.”  Chicago Daily News


Kennedy for The Defense (1980)
“George V. Higgins writes very good books. Kennedy for the Defense is one of his best. . . . He has created a genre of his own, in which the people are so real that it doesn't matter what they're doingn or how they go about doing it; just being in their company is pleasure enough. He is the le Carré of classy sleaze, and that is classy indeed.”Evan Hunter (Ed McBain), in The New York Times Book Review


“A leg-breaker of a novel. Dialogue chunks, character sketches, double-cross plot, a local tour, a lawyer hero you really wouldn't mind having represent you if you were dumb enough to do some of the things Higgins's characters do--all of this has been packaged by a pro, an old hand at working us over, at giving us our money's worth in his fictional briefs.”Shaun O'Connell, Boston Globe


“George. V. Higgins is back where he belongs--and a jolly good place it is. . . . He has returned, I am happy to say, in grand stylel. . . . He's back in the land of car thieves, loan sharks, hit men, hookers, fixers and idlers that he seems to know better--or at least to write about more convincingly--than any writer around.”Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Star


The Rat on Fire (1981)
“The dialogue is everything, Runyonesque, dripping with lovely sewage.” —Christopher Wordsworth, The Observer (UK)


The Patriot Game (1982)
"Even though the plotting is opaque . . . I found myself swept along by Higgins's always vivid, larger-than-life characters and the mesmerizing exuberance of their language. What we have here is a uniquely gifted writer, a sort of Irish-American literary Expressionist, who does at least as well by the Hogarthian Boston he knows as Raymond Chandler once did for Southern California.” —New York Times


Penance for Jerry Kennedy (1985)
Penance for Jerry Kennedy is the latest volume in what Lord Gowrie, reviewing Higgins's last book (and referring to Higgins as "one of the best novelists alive"), called "his enfolding masterpiece of conntemporary Boston, as magnetic as earlier versions by Robert Lowell and Henry James."
The Agent (1998)


The Agent is vintage Higgins, a crackling good murder story with vivid characters and perfect-pitch dialogue.”Roger Kahn


“A riveting look at the world of big-time sports provides veteran storyteller Higgins another opportunity to show off his skills at writing the most addictive dialogue since John O’Hara.” —Publishers Weekly


At End of Day (2000)
“Higgins deserves to stand in the company of the likes of Chan­dler and Hammett as one of the true innovators in crime fic­tion in the century gone, a writer who stripped away several layers of sentimental varnish from our view of those who broke the law. At End of Day shows that his extraordinary powers still propelled him at the finish line.” —Scott Turow


“George was a brilliant writer. His experimentation with sto­rytelling through dialogue, sometimes second- or third-hand dialogue, was as interesting a literary undertaking as I know. As Duke Ellington once said about music, there are only two kinds—good and bad. Higgins was good.” —Robert B. Parker


At End of Day is a terrific and topical book that takes off from the headline story of Whitey Bulger and the FBI’s complicity with the underworld. ... Higgins’s books are extremely stylized, but utterly realistic; poetic yet vernacularly down to earth. The epic struggles in them are entirely human. ... It is pure George V. Higgins.” Boston Globe


“Like Henry Higgins, the late George V. was enamored of the spoken word. But rather than trying to improve the accent and remove the slang of his subjects in the nasty backwaters of the Boston underworld, he devoted himself to capturing the rhythms and rasps of the local tongue. The challenge of fol­lowing the author into the linguistic thickets of his cops and hoods is a fitting analogue to the moral challenges that his law­ enforcement figures face while cracking a drug ring, dealing with loan sharks, and trying to contain, if not detain, several mob­sters. Nothing about the book—Higgins’s last; he died in 1999—­is easy, but it is all worth the effort.” The New Yorker


“The last novel of the late George V. Higgins shows no hint of failing skill or mellowing temper. The dialogue is as raffishly eloquent as ever, the action as disconcerting to the lawfully minded, and the author’s underlying attitude what it has regularly been—a plague on all your houses. ... Higgins was a bril­liantly clever, savagely bitter observer of society. His death is a severe loss.” Atlantic Monthly


At End of Day is a return to the form that made Higgins fa­mous: the crime story, a tale of villains and compromised good guys. ... It’s a sin and a shame that George V. Higgins never won the Pulitzer Prize.” Seattle Times


“All the famous ingredients are present—the pitch-perfect dia­logue, the shaggy-dog monologues, the lively mugs. ... Always readable, always entertaining, the lowlife’s Boswell—no one else was ever quite like him.” Philadelphia Inquirer


“Nobody talks like the late George V. Higgins. His mastery of the patois of the Boston criminal class is legendary.” —San Jose Mercury News


“Higgins drew these characters [in At End of Day] so realistically that they practically jump out of the page. ... Higgins was one of the great crime writers of the twentieth century. He will be missed.” Kansas City Star


At End of Day—impeccably observed and black as pitch, a kind of seeing in the dark—is a fitting capstone to a career that es­tablished Higgins as a great crime novelist and that ought to have established him as one of our finest novelist tout court. David Mamet considered him one of the three best novelists writing in English. ... A crime novel is not just a crime novel, but a George V. Higgins.” Newsday


“When George V. Higgins died last year, unexpectedly and pre­maturely, modern literature lost one of its most distinctive voices. ... George V. Higgins began his career at the top, with the blockbuster hit The Friends of Eddie Coyle. With his final novel he’s still at the top, popular with the public, admired by his peers. Every author should be so fortunate. And so deserving.” San Diego Union-Tribune


“I’ve always heard about the great success of [Higgins’s] first book, The Friends of Eddie Coyle, but somehow missed out on him. ... At least now I can celebrate him. First of all, there’s Higgins’s incredible sense of language, the macho-boasting, obscenity-laced, street-smart-eloquent style. He’s a master of dialogue, but it’s the monologues you remember, the soliloquies that are backed up by a kind of Greek chorus, the listener lis­tening to the yarn spinner.... Through it all [At End of Day] hums with life and language. The talk is tough and sizzles. Hig­gins moves us right along in his seemingly unhurried manner, but all the while he’s filling us in, setting us up. He was a mar­velous writer.” Providence Sunday Journal


“[At End of Day] is the last book in his splendid series of Boston lowlife novels. ... The dialogue is rich in flavor and reality ... a wonderful plot, rich and real.” St. Louis Post-Dispatch


“There are quite a few stories populating this novel, but the core thread is a brilliant one: the fine line between cops and the gangsters they pursue.” St. Petersburg Times


“For a quarter of a century, George V. Higgins was a fixture on the American literary scene, an original who used dialogue like nobody since Ring Lardner. While he was pigeonholed, un­fairly, as a mere ‘crime writer’; Higgins was, in fact, a novelist in the truest sense: creating a world that existed entirely in his own imagination but that seemed somehow truer and more real than the world we all know and inhabit. Higgins’s death last November was a loss to American letters. He did, however, leave behind one last finished work, which somewhat fills the empti­ness. At End of Day is pure Higgins, a story of criminals and crime fighters that is in no sense a whodunit or a shoot-’em-up but a novel of manners, an insightful look at the way we live now, and a wonderful, funny, chilling read.” American Way


“[Higgins] saw himself not as a crime writer but as a literary figure, a novelist whose characters happened to be people who sometimes commit crimes. . . . He should be judged an important figure whose experimentation inspired writers as different as David Mamet and Elmore Leonard, to name two who have cited Higgins as a major influence. A true story that has been often repeated: Leonard, once asked to name the ten greatest crime novels of all time, would name only one, The Friends of Eddie Coyle. And that is a fine legacy after all.” —Bruce DeSilva, New York Times


The Easiest Thing in the World: Uncollected Fiction
(edited by Matthew J. Bruccoli, 2004)
“There are few people who write as well as George and no one who writes quite like him.” —Robert B. Parker (from the introduction)

“The reader is struck at once by how much Higgins knew about things--the newspaper business, real estate law, Boston's surroundings, the tradecraft of criminals, the look of loose women, the manners of mean men, denial as a way of getting through the day, automobiles, fishing, gambling, and much, much else--the loose change of life, and not only loose change. Higgins's world is sarcastic and unforgiving and would be very nearly unbearable except for the ghastly hilarity of it all. In this world, the odds seem eternally six to five against.” —Ward Just, Boston Sunday Globe
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