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Since first unleashing his mastery of dialogue and social observation in Friends of Eddie Coyle, Higgins has been a talent in search of a form, a colorist in search of a theme or--at the very least--a good story. He experimented with something difficult yet arresting in the near-plotless, virtually ail-monologue A Year or So With Edgar (1979); but here he seems to be playing it safe, returning partly to the Boston-crime milieu, filling the vacuum where a real story should be with a handful of mini-plots. They all revolve around narrator Jerry Kennedy, ""the classiest sleazy criminal lawyer in Boston,"" a very quick, fairly obnoxious guy (meant to be endearingly obnoxious) with a slew of unlovely clients: there's Cadillac Teddy, car-thief supreme, who's being harassed by a shady State Trooper (the Trooper has eaten both Teddy's wife's driving license and Teddy's); there's Donald French, a dumb young boat-hand who's stuck in the middle of a cocaine connection being narc-ed by the FBI; there's Emerson Teller, a rich man's flamingly homosexual son, who's been arrested for propositioning a state cop. And at home too, where sexy, saucy wife Mack holds the fort, Jerry has a problem: his impossibly wonderful 15-year-old daughter Heather has been helping a pathetic pregnant friend to get an abortion, thus angering the friend's sociopathic boyfriend. All of these revolving cases get resolved, of course, with a little sleuthing, a little violence, a little plea-bargaining, and a lot of talk; but none of them ever digs in and holds--the effect is unbecomingly reminiscent of those mechanically multi-plotted police procedurals by Dell Shannon. Nor does anything much happen to Jerry himself, inside or out: he's just an amalgam of Higgins' various alter egos, with arbitrary moments of roughness, vulgarity, tenderness. So what remains? Some hilarious dialogue, some bravura set-piece speeches (Jerry's private eye does six pages on his ""principles""), some convincing glimpses of Boston cop/criminal circles and of the ""Irish Riviera"" in August. Inspired bits and pieces--Higgins is the Congreve of uneducated rhetoricians and educated vulgarians--but, without characters or events that gather depth or momentum, it all adds up yet again to a dazzling yet unrewarding meander through Higgins-land.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1979
Publisher: Knopf