A last helping of deceptively meandering monologues from the late master of miasmal crime fiction.
The biggest surprises here are how little most of these 15 tales depend on crime, and how little that matters. The stories that attorney Donnelly hears—listening is one of the things Higgins’s heroes do best—are just as mordant whether they involve serious crime (“Warm for September”) or not (“A Place of Comfort, Light and Hope”), or whether Donnelly is just talking about his own arrest for DUI (“A Principle of Dominant Transience”). Higgins (At End of Day, 2000, etc.) can be as remorseless unmasking a detestable newspaper publisher’s secret vice (“An End to Revels”) as in showing just how far a devoutly religious wife will go to turn her counterfeiter husband from his erring ways (“The Devil Is Real”). His special gift for blather, with a sting buried deep into the wool, is shown so characteristically in the title story, in its ruthlessly explicit tailpiece (“The First of the Year”), and in a tale about a once-high-flying broker’s meeting with a pair of SEC agents (“Life Was Absolutely Swell”) that it’s a relief to see Higgins try something off the pitch: “The Heroic Cat in the Bag,” for instance, shows a golfing attorney paying the price for an act of kindness; “The Last Wash of the Teapot” is a sort-of-playscript about a spendthrift collector’s legacy to his librarian widow; and “Landmark Theater May Shut Down” finds a guy who couldn’t make it as a lawyer reflecting on his long ownership of a small-town movie theater.
A top-flight posthumous collection, topped off by the hundred-page “Slowly Now the Dancer,” whose narrator travels to Maine to bury his hated grandmother, seething with enough resentment for a dozen felonies without committing a single one.