If I ever say there’s better crime fiction out there than Higgins’ The Friends of Eddie Coyle, it’s because I got hit in the head with a crow bar. Or I got 8 rounds of .22 pumped into the back of my skull and dumped in the Mystic River and someone else has taken over the blog.
There isn’t anything better out there than this book. Higgins is the Hemingway of crime fiction, and dare I say he outplays Hemingway at his own game. Yeah, I’ll say that.
Reading Coyle is like watching a movie. Fast scenes, almost all dialogue peppered with sharp glimpses of setting, like the camera’s cutting away to some nearby activity you’d see on the street or at a supermarket.
The dialogue, my Lord, the dialogue: Higgins was a lawyer who probably had his fair share of dubious interactions with the kind of dregs who infest his novels, so maybe that’s where he picked it up. The dialogue is so good that the 1972 movie adaptation starring Robert Mitchum and Peter Boyle relies almost exclusively on the text, but fails to deliver in most places because the actors don’t quite nail their roles or lines with much authenticity.
Actor choices were poor – Boyle plays an unconvincing Dillon, whose neurotic behavior in the novel is completely lobotomized out in the movie, and the flashy gap-toothed punk playing Jackie Brown behaves more like a nebbish Episode IV Luke Skywalker than the shrewd, laconic young gun dealer portrayed in the novel. The guy who plays Detective Foley is smug as fuck on screen, almost like the actor was getting off on the role too much while in character, but in text he’s just a guy doing his job and kinda pissed he gets paid so little.
The bright star here is, of course, Mitchum, who plays Eddie Coyle. Here, the movie adds something valuable that the book didn’t – where the film made Coyle more loved, and therefore lovable, the Higgins novel doesn’t give Coyle much charm beyond his age-acquired witticisms and a broken hand we feel a little bad for him about.
Mitchum’s penchant for playing a charming tough guy, but now in his twilight years and facing sentencing in a couple weeks, comes off powerfully on screen. You just want to hug the guy.
In the Higgins novel, though, you don’t want to be anywhere near Coyle. The novel’s title is meant to be facetious.
Pick it up, read it on a Saturday.