Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Before cell phones (updated)

-- George V. Higgins, The Friends of Eddie Coyle (Knopf 1971), p.23.Cool excerpt
I finished the book in one sitting and felt as if I’d been set free. So this is how you do it. ... What I learned from George Higgins was to relax, not to be so rigid in trying to make the prose sound like writing, to be more aware of the rhythms of coarse speech and the use of obscenities. Most of all George Higgins showed me how to get into scenes without wasting time, without setting up the scene, where the characters are and what they look like. In other words hook the reader right away. I also realized that criminals can appear to be ordinary people and have some of the same concerns as the rest of us. ... My take on The Friends of Eddie Coyle, for example -- which I have listed a number of times as the best crime novel ever written -- it makes The Maltese Falcon read like Nancy Drew.--Elmore Leonard.
Coyle was published in 1971. Right around the time Leonard switched from writing westerns, primarily, to writing thrillers.1969 - The Big Bounce
1970 - The Moonshine War
1970 - Valdez Is Coming
1972 - Forty Lashes Less One
1974 - Mr. Majestyk
1974 - 52 Pick-Up
1976 - Swag (which introduces the character Stick and is therefore a milestone)
Also, see if this sounds familiar (FOEC 166-167):

In the passage above there's a character named Foley. Elsewhere a key supporting player named Jackie Brown. Male and white, but still.


Tulkinghorn said...

Higgins was a genius and the fading of his reputation is unfortunate..... (His fingerprints are all over Ellroy and Pelecanos and Price.)

Looks like only Eddie Coyle and Higgins's last book are in print.

As we have discussed, Criterion has done a wonderful job with the movie, which is an unalloyed delight -- especially if you lived in Boston in the seventies and especially if you love (as do all right thinking people) Robert Mitchum.

David Chute said...

You left out one key successor, of course. Purely inadvertantly, I'm sure.

Dennis Lehane introduces the current reprint:

"No one, before or since, has written dialogue this scabrous, this hysterically funny, this pungently authentic -- not Elmore Leonard, who cites this novel as a primary influence, not Richard Price, not even George V. Higgins himself, who spent the rest of his career trying to fix what wasn't broken, attempting to refine his dialogue in subsequent novels to such a degree to phonetic miscalculation as to become a near parody of the mastery on display here."

Tulkinghorn said...

Dennis Lehane, of course, and David Mamet...

Left out purely by mistake.

Tulkinghorn said...

Also Tarantino

David Chute said...

QT by way of Leonard, I would have said, until I came to the cheese sandwich passage. Can't remember anything like that in Elmore.

Why movie critics should read more.