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Higgins, George V(incent) 1939–

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Higgins is an American novelist and short story writer. A criminal lawyer who has been an assistant U.S. District Attorney and assistant Attorney General, he is known primarily for crime novels which paint a realistic, deglamorized picture of the criminal subculture. His work is characterized by suspense and humor, with action portrayed largely through dialogue. Recent novels have moved into the realm of Washington politics. (See also CLC, Vols. 4, 7, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 77-80.)

Steve Ownbey

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Here's a tip on how to read The Judgment of Deke Hunter. Read only Chapters 5, 10, 12, 14, 16, 19, 21, and 22, and you'll enjoy an exciting, colorful, funny, clever, and rather provocative novelette about a bank robbery trial….

So much for the good parts. The rest of the book, as one of George V. Higgins' characters would put it, sucks.

The female characters … aren't worth knowing. Higgins seems to think he'd be branded naïvely romantic if he depicted a happy marriage. Every scene involving a married couple shows them bickering, and reading them is as much a waste of time as watching The Honeymooners. The fact that Higgins' audience is (probably) mostly male is ironic, since so much of his book is soap opera. (p. 1302)

Higgins has comic talent; you wonder why he doesn't settle down and write something non-serious. His comedy is broad, but with surprising touches of subtlety…. But the laughs are too scattered. For every line that is both dirty and funny, like "He just isn't your basic hard-nosed desperado, that eats nails and fishhooks for breakfast and washes them down with horse piss," a hundred other lines are just dirty, not funny. (pp. 1302-03)

Higgins' famous "realistic dialogue" is often excellent…. But too much of it is tedious, unnecessarily filthy, and pretentiously florid. (p. 1303)

Steve Ownbey, "Adam-and-Eve-12," in National Review (© National Review, Inc., 1976; 150 East 35th St., New York, N.Y. 10016), November 26, 1976, pp. 1302-03.

Ivan Gold

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["Dreamland"] is George V. Higgins's sixth book since 1972, when "The Friends of Eddie Coyle" appeared. Seven books in five years—clearly an oeuvre in the making, and in "Dreamland" Higgins works to extend the range, leaving the tightly plotted, swift-moving netherworld of Eddie Coyle for the denser, more literary air of Boston Brahmins, high finance and international skullduggery….

I found the intricacies of the plot—and the relationship between Compton and Andrew—ultimately baffling, and the issue of whether or not Wills senior was a Government spy of no great moment. Compton's narration is turgid at times, mannered at others, with echoes of Faulkner, Conrad, James. Yet the book has a consistent appeal, powered as it is by a determined intelligence and filled as it is with lore: There is much of interest on the workings of the legal profession, on sailing, on politics, on the lives of the rich, on trade secrets of investigative reporting and much else. Compton (or Higgins) knows a great deal, and if the narrative is not exactly seamless, it is filled with moving scenes and sharp observations of character that keep reader involvement high. Perhaps one is not meant to take the plot involutions very seriously but, rather, to respond to the book's amplitude and to the spectacle of a good, established writer stretching and enlarging on his talent, and moving on. (p. 15)

Ivan Gold, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1977 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), September 11, 1977.

Michael Mason

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Dreamland can … be thought of as something of a compromise between thriller and political novel. Its main theme is the hero's reluctant discovery of some facts about his deceased father's personal and professional life, which are dug up in the course of a journalist's pursuit of a story. So the book is structurally a novel of mystery, moving towards exposure and explanation. There are, however, no corpses in the cellar. The exposed truths are mostly non-criminal acts of espionage and international diplomacy.

Another category which Dreamland fits into is the American novel of conspiracy, a new genre which has flourished in the 1960s and 1970s for reasons that need not be enumerated. In fact this is probably the more correct way to regard the component of mystery in Dreamland, for its clarifications and discoveries are ambiguous and incomplete in the way that the exposure of conspiracy has been in American fiction and reality alike recently. At the end, the reader will still be partly in the dark not only about who done it, but also about what "it" was in the first place.

This admittedly clever attempt to mirror the haziness of history may have been carried too far by Mr Higgins. At points the narrative is so allusive and oblique that it ceases even to be tantalizing. And then it is additionally muffled by the great importance given to direct speech in the novel—speech both as narrative event and as narrative medium….

Mr Higgins has remained very loyal to the spoken word in his novels through all their changes of direction. Dialogue is almost as prominent in Dreamland as it was in The Digger's Game. In addition, the narration is a first-person one by the hero, Compton Wills….

He creates a definite idiom for both Compton and many of his acquaintance which is impressively different from the Boston underworld dialect, but less successful. This pompous, circumlocutory style harmonizes nicely with the book's themes of façade and genteel fraud, and on Compton's lips it expresses well his resistance to half-recognized truths about himself and others. But the author's hunt for a mealy-mouthed, arcane diction often leads him into implausibility and solecism. The villain—if that's what he is—is an Englishman who uses phrases such as "Pause yet awhile". It most be a very long time since any crook, even an English one, has talked like that.

Michael Mason, "The Dirt on Daddy," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd., 1977; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), November 4, 1977, p. 1285.

JOSEPH McLELLAN

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After some sidetrips into the less congenial field of Washington fact and fiction, the author of The Friends of Eddie Coyle and The Digger's Game is back in his old, familiar territory: criminals and those who pursue them, in and around Boston. [In The Judgement of Deke Hunter, as] in the past, [Higgins's] eye for detail and his ear for dialogue are precise and vivid, his story plain and believable, his characters realistic to the point that they would be banal in less skilled hands. This time, the focus is on the family and professional problems of a detective sergeant rather than a petty criminal, and the moral seems to be that hunters and hunted are members of the same animal species. (p. E6)

Joseph McLellan, in Book World—The Washington Post (© The Washington Post), March 12, 1978.

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