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on November 8, 2012
You either like George V. Higgins' dialogue centered writing style, or you don't.

The people with negative reviews on this site simply don't know what they are reading. Higgins' books are always nothing but dialogue, reading a Higgins book is like hiding under the couch and listening in on a bunch of criminals talking to each other. The joy of his books is trying to figure out yourself what is going on, because he never tells you directly, you have to figure it out on your own. Higgins writes his books with 99% of the text being dialogue, and he is known as a master of dialogue. His best work was "The Friends of Eddie Coyle" which none other than Elmore Leonard considers to be one of the best crime novels ever written.

Cogan's Trade (which is what this book is) is a pretty good example of George V. Higgins' work, but if you want to get into him, definitely start with "The Friends of Eddie Coyle".
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VINE VOICEon January 10, 2013
If you don't like dialogue driven stories or don't like thinking getting in the way of what you are reading, stay away from George V. Higgins and let the rest of us enjoy his brilliant works. Go read James Patterson's, Tess Gerritsen's or John Grisham's crap. Cogan's Trade (Killing Them Softly) is an excellent follow up to The Friends of Eddie Coyle. This story told through conversations is about a mob card game that gets ripped off for a second time and mob hit man Jackie Cogan is brought in to set things right. The story is told through conversations between Jackie Cogan and a mob lawyer, the two perpetrators of the robbery, the mobster who orchestrated the hold up, and between Jackie and another hired hit man brought in to help. The gist of the story is, a mobster hires a junkie and a small time hood to knock over a card game run by another mobster, who previously hit his own game. Jackie then has to navigate the Boston streets to ferret out the lowlifes who framed up the mobster who runs the card game. George Higgins paints a realistic depiction of hoods and hit men from the era and the area Even using the accent and slang to really nail it home. It feels like you are being given a window into the real life of organized crime. I really enjoyed this book as much as The Friends of Eddie Coyle, and I hope to Zeus that Brad Pitt and company didn't muck up the movie too bad. (Not off to a good start moving the setting from Boston to Louisiana) I recommend this book highly to crime fiction fans.
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on November 28, 2012
Underworld Boston has become an Industry in recent years. Higgins got there first and did it superbly. I grew up where his novels take place, knew kids who got sucked into the Mob. Higgins especially in his first three novels THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE, DIGGER'S GAME and COGAN'S TRADE captures the speech, the outlook, the life of these guys. Scumbags? You bet! But fully realized!
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon January 21, 2013
Johnny Amato has a plan: he's going to hire a couple guys to knock over a mob poker game run by Markie Trattman. Trattman went to prison for 5 years after knocking over a different mob poker game and Amato figures that if his guys go in and do it, Trattman will get the blame again and Amato will be home free with the cash. But when the robbery goes as planned, the mob calls in its most ruthless enforcer - Jackie Cogan - who is determined to find the culprits and send a message to anyone thinking of trying anything similar ever again.

By page 3 I was hooked. The dialogue between Amato, Frankie and Russell is simply incredible. It sounds startlingly realistic and by its sheer authenticity, it makes the story immediately involving. This is my first George Higgins novel so I wasn't sure what to expect - his writing style is basically all dialogue. About 95% of this book is dialogue and it kind of reads like a play! From the opening scene where 3 guys are sat in an office talking, the story plays out with various guys sitting around talking, telling anecdotes about women they've slept with, the quality of their home lives, stories from being in jail, previous crimes they were involved in - the list goes on, they talk about anything and everything. But the plot moves at a glacial pace and the initial thrill of the conversations wore off about halfway through, leaving me wondering why hardly anything seemed to be happening.

I'm conflicted about this book; on the one hand I'm in total admiration of George Higgins' ability to render dialogue, particularly gangster dialogue, so convincingly - and on the other, the sheer amount of dialogue just envelops the novel and stultifies the actual story. Here's the problem with the story: the reader knows who knocks over the game, and also knows Cogan knows who knocked over the game - so we spend at least 100 pages (half the book) waiting for Cogan to spring the trap, which he does only in the final 10 pages or so. For most of the book there's no narrative tension. Meanwhile the dialogue and endless anecdotes about basically anything randomly picked from the characters' lives, while realistic, don't make up for a lack of forward momentum in the story.

Higgins' use of dialogue to render character is astonishing - you understand the characters indelibly by simply reading their speeches (and they are speeches; the dialogue for each character is so extensive it's like they're taking turns lecturing at one another) you get an understanding of their background, intelligence, life story, and personality. This in itself is so rare amongst novelists that this book is worth reading for anyone interested in seeing how dialogue, when written well, can be a substitute for description or any other literary device. To give an idea of the high quality of the dialogue, most readers/writers today when asked for an example of a writer whose character speech is the best would say Elmore Leonard; the writer Elmore Leonard says wrote the best dialogue? George V. Higgins.

"Cogan's Trade" is a book where instead of descriptions of actions or settings, you get speech tics and tonal shifts and I really like that you have to pay attention to the conversation to understand what's going on in the scene; Higgins won't help you with omniscient narration so if you miss nuances then you miss the way the scene plays out. It makes a change from most prose fiction and feels like an incredibly sophisticated writing style, far more advanced than you would expect from genre fiction. But I felt the story itself lacked energy and the narrative didn't interest me enough to say that I loved the book. I thought the writing was fine, the characterisation through dialogue and the dialogue itself were exemplary but wasn't enough to sustain the novel, whose story was only so-so. Nevertheless this is an interesting kind of crime novel, one I think readers of Elmore Leonard will get a kick out of, though maybe "Cogan's Trade" isn't the best example of his work.
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on January 12, 2013
Being a Boston native and reader of all GVH's books I thoroughly enjoyed Killing Them Softly even though having read it originally as Cogan's Trade. His ability to convey the sensation of being in Boston, even to the non-native is carried on in this book.
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on February 22, 2013
I take it that this story is about the personalities of Boston criminal punks, and an expos`e on criminal punk violence. This book is very boring to read if you are not curious about criminal punks, personally. But I am curious about criminal punks' personalities and this book was okay for me. I am sorry that this book is too boring for some people.
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on January 26, 2014
If you like mafioso books this one really makes you feel like you are there in the early seventies. When the mafia has peaked and is on its way to a complete change in the way of life they have known.
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on November 25, 2012
I agree with Lunch Money to an extent. This is typical Higgins. 95% dialogue with little narrative. In a lot of his work the reader has to wade through the trivial stories the characters tell to find out what's really going on. In this story it doesn't take any effort because nothing much is going on, leaving the trivial stories just trivia. All the characters are unlikeable scumbags and yeah, a few people get killed in a very unemotional manner but that doesn't make it either suspenseful or interesting. I assume the movie will use the bare bones of the plot and actually add something like suspense. People who like movies will be asking themselves what kind of book this is while Higgins fans will probably have already read it.
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on March 1, 2013
I understand that there is a certain genius in the author's ability to write dialogue the way people actually speak. I also understand that a "dialogue-driven" story is going to be hit or miss. Putting that aside, the story still has know....go somewhere for it to be considered "driven." This entire thing reads like it was the opening chapter in a story, not a stand alone novel.

You're not engaged with any of the characters. None of them are particularly interesting, "Cogan" the least of all. A story told from the perspective of a mafia hit-man could be really interesting, particularly watching him hunt down and bring to justice those that have messed with the mafia but it glosses over most of these details. I read the entire book and couldn't tell you how he managed to track down the individuals responsible for ripping off the mafia.

And the "dialogue" schtick wears pretty thin because the conversations among characters drag on for pages and do nothing to advance the plot. And it all seems pretty convenient that in any situation, there were always at least two people that needed to have these meandering conversations. If you stripped out all the fluff, there is probably 20 pages of story and necessary dialogue in this already short 200 page book.

There is obviously an audience for the author's work but I would recommend any casual readers who first learned about it from hearing about the film, to skip it.
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on November 26, 2012
Not quite fair of the publishers and Amazon ) to market this book as Killing them Softly which I already owned under its original name: Cogan's Trade!!
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