The Friends of Eddie Coyle is the most realistic crime novel ever written, perfectly catching the world of small-time New England criminals without ever lapsing into either romanticism or bathos. The dialogue is perfect, the characters are spot on, the locations are so specific and beautifully rendered.
This was a groundbreaking novel – showing us the inside life of crime through the eyes of the criminal. (The Godfather, of course, came out in 1969 and did the same thing, but in a much more romantic, neo-Shakespearian way.) There’s nothing romantic about Eddie Coyle. You really get to know Eddie and the guys he does business with. (The ‘Friends’ in the title becomes bitterly ironic at the end.) You see how brutally the Feds deal with a snitch they have in a headlock. This novel shows you how it works.
I’m a New England guy myself so I could relate to the culture. I remember reading the book when it came out in 1971 and thinking, ‘Wow – this is the real deal.’ Its one of the books that inspired me to become a ‘crime writer’, although Higgins himself rejected that term.