by George V. Higgins ‧ RELEASE DATE: Sept. 1, 1987
The first half of this long, ambitious new Higgins novel offers his most straightforward, commanding fiction in years: the 1970's pursuit, capture, and trial of radical ""outlaws""--aging student dissidents turned ruthless bank-robbers (like Kathy Boudin et al.). Unfortunately, however, the book's second half--the trial's 1985-86 aftermath--is a convoluted, talky letdown. Who are the clever, elusive thieves behind a series of big armored-car robberies in New England? That's the question for veteran cop John Richards and young Massachusetts prosecutor Terry Gleason--who eventually (after a drug-money heist involving multiple murder) zero in on the gang: charismatic ringleader Sam Tibbetts, Stanford '68 summa cum laude, the All-American boy gone sour; second-in-command James Walker, the lost, angry, dark-skinned son of elegant Establishment parents (a top NY doctor, a part-black concert cellist); plus assorted followers, including a lesbian couple. The trial features Tibbett's plea of temporary, drug-induced insanity--in contrast to the other three defendants' surly defiance. And, with four bickering lawyers (from stuffy to Kunstler-ish), a sardonically witty judge, and colorful backroom confrontations, this is vivid, darkly comic courtroom-drama right up to the 1978 verdict: guilty--except for mastermind Tibbetts, who'll go free after a few years in a mental institution. Circa 1985, then, Tibbetts is somewhere in Europe. Walker, rotting in jail, is now willing to implicate Tibbetts in another murder, in exchange for early parole. Gleason is involved in an adulterous affair with Walker's gorgeous sister Christina--who's playing a key role in the deal that will bring overdue justice to Tibbetts (her onetime lover). But, though a bitter cop is apparently leading the campaign to ""get"" Tibbetts, the real force behind the vengeance turns out to be Walker's grande dame mother--whose nonprofit musical foundation just happens to be (implausibly) a front for the CIA-funded sabotage of radical movements. This oblique Part III, dense with subplots and dominated by a sketchy new set of leading characters, dissipates much of the narrative drive built up in Parts I and II. Higgins' ultimate theme--the Establishment types are perhaps no less ""outlaws"" than the anarchists--lurches up unpersuasively. Still, though uneven as storytelling and iffy as sociology (the gang portraits lack depth), this is a rich serving of Higgins strengths nonetheless: provocative angles on the System, foul crimes, nasty talk--and funny, top-notch courtroom maneuvers.
Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1987
Page Count: -
Publisher: Henry Holt
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1987
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