THE PATRIOT GAME by George V. Higgins

THE PATRIOT GAME

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Remember The Digger's Game (1973), that early-Higgins frolic/caper about Jerry ""Digger"" Doherty, the Boston con-man with the exasperated priest-brother? Well, this is sort of a sequel--but, like other recent Higgins books, it's less a novel than an anecdote decorated with those elaborately impressive Boston-area monologues and duologues. It's now some years after The Digger's Game, and Mikie-mike Magro--an imprisoned thug who blames Digger for his long jail sentence--is about to be released. . . suspiciously early. And if Magro gets out he'll promptly kill Digger, who (though not IRA himself) is being usefully followed by big Pete Riordan, a Justice Dept. agent on the trail of IRA gun-running. So Pete's doing all he can to keep Magro from being released: he pays a call on Digger's brother Paul, now a country-clubbing bishop, to warn him and enlist his help; he argues with the blow-hard prison authorities (""I'm gonna talk for a while now before we all gag on our circumcised parameters and lose our conceptual grasp""). And, above all, he tries to figure out who is really behind the early release for Magro. Why is Monsignor Fahey out in West Roxbury lobbying for Magro's pardon? (The best scene here is Bishop Paul's blackmail/grilling of the slimy Monsignor over a genteel lunch.) And what's the involvement of assorted Massachusetts politicos? Riordan eventually figures out the connection--yet more IRA-gun secrets--and goes down into a vividly described South Boston for some climactic rough stuff. But this short novel, with its stately pace and oblique exposition, never really becomes a thriller. Nor does it quite work as character-fiction, since the crucial Paul/Digger brother-relationship is barely sketched (Digger appears only once, briefly), while quasi-hero Riordan--who does have an engaging relationship with a divorcÉe and her teenage daughter--must share space with so many others. Still, as so often with Higgins, the dialogue here is the book's saving grace as well as its raison d'âtre: rich, funny, and surprising--even though less varied this time, even though often infuriatingly digressive. And readers of The Digger's Game may have sufficiently strong memories of the Doherty brothers to invest this lesser sequel with the emotional heft it merely hints at.

Pub Date: April 23rd, 1982
Publisher: Knopf