George V. Higgins, who died as At End of Day
was going to press, reinvented the language of the crime novel with his ability to breathe life into the dialogue of the small-time hoodlum. At the end of all of Higgins's fictional days--from his first novel, The Friends of Eddie Coyle
, to this practically posthumous work--lie 1,001 nights in which FBI agents and crime bosses become consonant-dropping, vowel-skewing, grammar-ignoring Scheherazades whose stories are recounted with the deadly accurate tone that became the author's trademark.
At End of Day tells the story of the downfall of Boston mobster Arthur McKeach; more precisely, it tells the story of those who tell the story of McKeach's undoing. In Higgins's world--though he could write a mean murder scene--crime is less an immediate event than a moment to which his characters return to weave complicated, often conflicting narratives. At the novel's center lies a problematic alliance between McKeach and his top henchman, Nick Cistaro, and FBI agents Darren Stoat and Jack Farrier: the mobsters provide information to the FBI about their Mafia rivals in return for protection. To say that the partnership serves to humanize both sides, or to claim that the yoke of creative necessity harnesses men who are ironically similar, is to pander to the obvious. Far better to relax into the intoxicating rhythms of the characters' language, as when McKeach attempts to educate a horrified Stoat in the underworld code of behavior:
His expression was calm, his tone the patient monotone, varied by occasional emphasis, that an earnest instructor would use addressing interested novices. 'But then the big guys get involved in private fights, one of them floats in onna tide? Reason don't matter--if he's big then his guys're involved, they don't have no choice. It's then a matter of honor. And besides, if the guys who aren't dead, if they expect to keep what they've got, well then, they'd better get involved too. Show some respect for their guy who is dead, and retaliate, right? Because otherwise the guys who did him'll come around and do them, take over his whole territory. So--never mind why he is dead, he is dead--revenge is their duty to him, and themselves, to show they're still men.'
McKeach lives, and others die, by this code; his unwavering control is the axis around which At End of Day revolves. Higgins fans both old and new will find themselves captivated by McKeach's authority and Higgins's hypnotic prose. --Kelly Flynn
From Publishers Weekly
At the time of his death last November, acclaimed crime novelist Higgins had published 29 books, beginning with The Friends of Eddie Coyle in 1972. His 30th and last offers another of his beautifully rendered wanderings through the underworld of south Boston. Much of the story drills into the domain of two gangsters, Nick Cistaro and Arthur McKeath, and their unusual relationship with the city's top FBI men, tough veteran Jack Farrier and bumbling sycophant Darren Stoat. Both sides meet regularly for a civilized dinner, slipping each other just enough information so they can succeed at their respective pursuits. The genius of the narration, however, lies in the (at first) seemingly aimless side roadsAcharacter sketches, back stories, long dialogue digressionsAthat Higgins takes just when it looks like a central plot is forming. There's the crippled Vietnam vet who's scheming to cheat pharmacies out of painkillers usually reserved for bone cancer sufferers; the antiques dealer who treats his loan sharks dismissivelyAuntil they break his teeth; the cop's son entering the police academy who's not ready to give up his sideline as a mob gofer; the FBI agent whose wife's inept stock-market plays are driving them into bankruptcy. By novel's end, Higgins pulls enough of the plotcords together to fashion an intricate, tantalizing t knot. All of his signature touches are present, yet the book has a grittier feel than much of his recent work (The Agent; Swan Boats at Four). The themes are broader, the behavior coarser and the coziness between cops and crooks oilier. And it's all wrapped in a dark brand of humor that a guy like Eddie Coyle would appreciate. (May)
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