Category Archives: George V Higgins

Pulp Friday: Guns with plots

Let’s make one thing clear. I don’t own a gun. Never have and never will. Indeed, the only guns I want to see are in film or on the cover of books like the ones featured in today’s Pulp Friday post.

For a while now I have been obsessed with the cover above of the 1964 Panther edition of Len Deignton’s The Ipcress File. The cover, done by influential English graphic designer, Ray Hawkey, who would go onto to do a number of paperback covers, exudes a style and tone I could never imagine being used today except as a deliberate retro homage.

It speaks to the everyday grime, drudgery and unglamorous boredom of the Cold War spy racket, which the Deighton novels featuring the working class spy, Harry Palmer, evoke so well. There is also the mess that comes with the trade: a cold cup of tea (probably cold); cigarettes, because in the sixties every fictional spy smoked; paperclips for the paperwork; and, a gun and bullets, because sometimes you have to kill someone.

It is a gritty, cluttered layout I associate with mass paperback novels of the type that were largely targeted at men in the 1960s and 1970s. As it turns out, a bit of a dig around reveals it was a style that was widely used in those two decades – but it also bled over into the 1980s – by mass market paperback publishers in the crime, mystery and espionage thriller categories.… Read more

‘The novel is about making believe your world is real’: an interview with Peter Temple

The death of Peter Temple at the age 71 has robbed Australia of what is undeniably one of its most influential crime writers. His Jack Irish novels were made into a popular television show by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. The Broken Shore, which won the coveted British Crime Writers’ Association Gold Dagger award in 2007 – the first Australian author to do so – and Truth, awarded the Miles Franklin in 2010, were significant works of local crime fiction that, arguably, helped usher in the popularity of literary crime fiction in Australia.

David Honeybone, former editor of the influential hard copy magazine, Crime Factory [the precursor to the on-line magazine which I helped edit for a number of years until it recently ceased production], and a fan of Temple’s work, interviewed the author for issue 2 of the magazine in 2010. As a tribute, Honeybone generously shared his interview, in which Temple recalls his national service in the South African Defence Force, his literary influences, the challenges of translating his uniquely Australian dialogue into other languages, and what degree of realism a crime author should be aspiring to in their work.

Peter Temple is a South African by birth and an Australian by choice. A former journalist, he is one of Australia’s most successful crime writers, having five times won the Crime Writers’ Association of Australia’s Ned Kelly Award.Read more

Killing Them Softly

Last week I finally watched Killing Them Softly, a film I’ve wanted to see for ages. Living in Australia, it’s not often I get one up on my American readers in terms of seeing a major release movie before they do. But for some reason, Killing Them Softly is not out yet in the States.

So, for those of you who are going to have to hang on a little longer to watch it, let me assure you, it is well worth the wait.

For Australian readers, all I can say is get thee to a cinema now and see this film.

Killing Them Softly is based on the novel Cogan’s Trade by George V Higgins. It’s the story of an enforcer cum hit man who is brought in to investigate a robbery of a mob protected card game.

Higgins was also the author of The Friends of Eddie Coyle, which was made into one of the best, if not the best, heist movie ever made (and which I reviewed on this site here in 2010).

It’s hard to exaggerate just how influencial the movie version of The Friends of Eddie Coyle is. Released in 1973, it is a no frills depiction of desperate men doing whatever they have to do to stay one step ahead of each other and the law.… Read more

Crime fiction criminals

By definition, the majority of crime fiction characters are criminals or at least commit illegal and/or immoral acts. But books where the main character is a full-time professional criminal are surprisingly few and far between. Here’s a selection of some of the best.

It’s worth noting that when this post originally appeared on the Crime Fiction Lover website, readers came up with several good additions, including Andrew Vachss’s Burke, Charlie Huston’s Henry Thornton, Lawrence Block’s hitman character Keller and Patricia Highsmith’s Tom Ripley. I had originally thought of including the James Ellroy character Dudley Smith (“Knock, knock, who’s there, Dudley Smith, so reds beware”), but he’s a bent cop so not eligible. However, Ellroy’s Pete Bondurant would definitely make the cut.

Please leave a comment if you can think of any others.

Parker by Richard Stark (aka Donald Westlake)

The 24 books written between 1962 and 2010 featuring the professional thief known as Parker remain some of the best crime fiction ever written. Sixteen Parker novels appeared between 1962 and 1974. Westlake took a rest from the character until 1997, then wrote another eight Parker books.

Parker is a career criminal who steals things for a living. Get in his way on a job or try to double cross him afterwards and he’ll hurt you.… Read more

The Friends of Eddie Coyle

The Friends of Eddie CoyleOf the crime films coming out of the United States in the early seventies, it’s hard to think of one that’s tougher and grittier than the 1973 neo-noir, The Friends of Eddie Coyle.

Set in Boston’s criminal milieu, The Friends of Eddie Coyle is a no frills depiction of desperate men doing whatever they have to do to stay one step ahead of each other and the law.

And none of them is more desperate than Eddie ‘Fingers’ Coyle (Robert Mitchum). A 51 year-old ex-con, a gun runner and Christ knows what else in his criminal career, Coyle’s got a wife, three kids and the prospect of a three to five-year jail stretch for being caught driving a truckload of stolen whisky.

We first glimpse Coyle getting his coffee and slice of pie in an all night diner before sitting down to talk business with the young Turk, Jackie Brown (Steven Keats), from who he gets his merchandise.

The punk gives him lip and Coyle has to set him straight with the story about how he got his nickname and an extra set of knuckles on one hand, courtesy of a gun deal gone wrong.

“You can’t trace these guns, I guarantee that,” whines Brown.

“You better, or neither of us will be able to shake hands,” deadpans Coyle.… Read more