Bill James’ Xmas Recommendation: The Friends of Eddie Coyle

Bill James, author of the Harpur and Iles police procedural series, has his say on George V. Higgins’ crime masterpiece, The Friends of Eddie Coyle.

The crime novel I’d recommend as a Christmas present is The Friends of Eddie Coyle by George V. Higgins, who was an Assistant District Attorney when he wrote it. It came out in the United States originally, over 40 years ago, and was published to a bellow of surprised praise from Norman Mailer: ‘What dialogue! What I can’t get over is that so good a first novel was written by the fuzz.’

It is to do with the horribly devious and risky ways the police get their information and pulls off one of the most difficult tricks in crime fiction:  he gets sympathy for his central figure, a stool pigeon (played by Robert Mitchum in the film). That word, ‘Friends’, in the title is agonisingly ironic. The novel is set in Boston. I’ve never been there so can`t vouch for the authenticity of the crook dialogue, but I’m ready to believe he’s got it brilliantly, poetically, demotically right, no doubt aided by the kind of people he dealt with in his law job. Mailer shouldn’t really have been shocked. Higgins was probably echoing the kind of talk he heard every working day.


Bill James is regarded as one of the finest contemporary police procedural novelists, and has released 29 novels in the Harpur and Iles series. You’d Better Believe It, the first in the series, was nominated for the 1986 Crime Writers’ Association Gold Dagger Award.