Want an idea of how many unread books I have in my house, look no further than The Friends of Eddie Coyle. I bought this book when the last season of Justified aired. I just now got around to reading it?
Why do I remember it as the last year Justified aired? Well, because it was featured in the final episode of the show, an homage to the series’ title character creator, Elmore Leonard. Raylan tosses his dog-eared copy of it to a coworker on the way out the door. It was a subtle touch, but a meaningful one for fans of the by-then departed Leonard, for one of the best modern writers had called the book his favorite crime novel ever. It was even the reason he moved on from writing westerns and got into crime novels.
The publishers thought so much of Elmore’s opinion, they put the quote at the top of the back cover on the reprinted 40th anniversary edition I have.
After reading it, and having read a few of Leonard’s books, it is easy to see why he took a shine to it. It is very dialogue-driven. There is a story line, but that takes a back seat to the conversations between characters of a seedy, detailed underworld of the New England mob. Many authors paint a picture with descriptive words about the surroundings, the landscape. Higgins allows you to picture the locations based on the type of people who have the conversations his characters are having, and the types of places they would have them.
Coyle is a low man on the totem pole looking at some time for this thing he did up north. Eddie doesn’t actually have many friends, despite the title. He more has acquaintances in both the mob and law enforcement. He is not the guy you expect to end up with a happy ending. You are not even sure if you want him to.
The character of Eddie is reportedly based on a real-life Boston underling in the Whitey Bulger mob, although Higgins never would admit it. Let’s just say, there were some similarities. There was also a movie based on the book starring Robert Mitchum.
Friends is a short read at just 182 pages, with 30 very short chapters. Many of those chapters are just one brief conversation. Again, dialogue. And the brevity of the book leaves you wanting more, because these are characters worth exploring. That is a testament to what makes this book an enjoyable read.