The Friends of Eddie Coyle

The Friends of Eddie Coyle
George V. Higgins

In his Introduction to the 40th Anniversary Edition of this classic, genre-transforming crime novel, Dennis Lehane begins by pointing out an irony in the title. Ironic because “Eddie Coyle has no friends.” What he has instead are partners in crime, and there is no honour among thieves (or so I’m told). Still, the real irony is that Eddie and his “friends” are ultimately undone by a near stranger (the sexy stewardess who one of them shacks up with). Some sort of rough code has to be in operation, just to make it possible for them to do their job. Where Higgins really broke new ground, aside from his realistic handling of the different voices (“I don’t know as I really know, you know?”), is in boiling that job down to its most essential element: staying out of jail. “I do business by staying out of prison,” Jackie Brown remarks. More than the money, or the various schemes to get money, this is what obsesses everyone we meet, and it’s not something we’re used to seeing foregrounded in such a way. In most crime novels being on the run from the law is simply taken for granted, but here, through their dialogue, we hear these men constantly thinking about it and worrying over it. A criminal is always in hiding, always on the run. And so the novel plays out like a game of musical chairs. The music will stop, some people will be able to sit down while others are left standing, taking them out of the game. “Some of us die, the rest of us get older, new guys come along, old guys disappear.” This is the only way the game changes, and doesn’t change, every day.

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