The Friends of Eddie Coyle

by George V. Higgins

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Social Concerns / Themes

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Last Updated on May 11, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 394

When The Friends of Eddie Coyle was published in 1972, its originality was registered both through Higgins's control of literary technique and by its seeming to stand apart from various popular notions of the reality of crime in America. In addition to the broadcasting of the revelations of Joe Valachi, recent works of fiction and nonfiction had made common the concept of "organized crime" — the Mafia. Sociological theories were being offered as explanations of criminal behavior among racial minorities. The radical left was responsible for crimes which exceeded the definition of the political as it was understood by the nation's majority. Obviously aware of this criminal topography, George V. Higgins reminded his readers of the persistence of another sort of criminal activity — the mundane reality of criminal life and society which has always shadowed "normal" capitalistic society.

In part, this reality was established through literary style. Against the seismic, orchestrated violence of such a book as The Godfather (an almost contemporaneous best seller), the actual violence of The Friends of Eddie Coyle is made to appear even more a matter of everyday business than Mario Puzo's most perfunctory executions. But this reality is also established through the particular focus of the novel. In opposition to the hierarchical criminal strategies depicted by Puzo, Higgins concentrates upon the smaller businessmen in the economy of crime. Higgins gives a view of the bottom in which patterns of behavior are, at first, hard to discern. Instead of sociological explanation, he offers glimpses of a part of society which allows for few motivations other than the economic and which adheres to its own rules of order and punishment. Since its own objective of economic success is held in common with normal society, it is made clear that political radicals have no solid a place in this criminal world, except as potential customers who cannot be trusted to follow the rules. On the other hand, these rules are shown to operate with little regard for either the law or its agents. Punishment seems to exert no inhibition upon the actual commission of crime and whatever success the police have in preventing crime is shown to be either fortuitous or the result of information obtained from other criminals. It is a testament to the authority with which Higgins writes that readers do not consider the possibility of his indulging in fictive hyperbole.

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