The Friends of Eddie Coyle by George V. Higgins

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The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1972) is a marvel of naturalistic tough guy talk, life of crime minutiae, and understated violence.

Eddie Coyle, a small time crook and gun trade middleman facing upcoming jail time, is the eponymous character but he isn’t really the main character. The story equally belongs to three others: Jackie Brown, a young gun dealer, Dave Foley, a cop with a pair of untrustworthy informants, and Dillon, a bartender rat who may be more connected than he seems. All their lives circle around a gun deal supplying a gang of bank robbers, and the desperate shuffle of snitching and favors and threats that unfolds.

The dialogue here is amazing. It’s a mix of pop culture digressive, stammering beat around the bushness, and cold, hard speech. Higgens doesn’t show us the insides of his characters head so much as they way the talk, the way they dress, and the things they do.

I really admire just how bullshit all the tough guys are: they are very dangerous, of course, but they are, on the whole, so far from having any actual code (honor among thieves). It’s refreshing to read a crime story so devoid of gangster romanticism.

A well-reviewed film starring Robert Mitchum was made in 1973 but I haven’t seen it yet. I really want to now, because I can’t imagine how Mitchum, always a vivid tough guy performer, would play such a desperate rat as Coyle. Either they had to change Coyle’s characterization or Mitchum did something I’ve never seen him do. I plan to watch that as soon as I can.

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