cover image At End of Day

At End of Day

George V. Higgins. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH), $33 (392pp) ISBN 978-0-15-100358-7

At the time of his death last November, acclaimed crime novelist Higgins had published 29 books, beginning with The Friends of Eddie Coyle in 1972. His 30th and last offers another of his beautifully rendered wanderings through the underworld of south Boston. Much of the story drills into the domain of two gangsters, Nick Cistaro and Arthur McKeath, and their unusual relationship with the city's top FBI men, tough veteran Jack Farrier and bumbling sycophant Darren Stoat. Both sides meet regularly for a civilized dinner, slipping each other just enough information so they can succeed at their respective pursuits. The genius of the narration, however, lies in the (at first) seemingly aimless side roads--character sketches, back stories, long dialogue digressions--that Higgins takes just when it looks like a central plot is forming. There's the crippled Vietnam vet who's scheming to cheat pharmacies out of painkillers usually reserved for bone cancer sufferers; the antiques dealer who treats his loan sharks dismissively--until they break his teeth; the cop's son entering the police academy who's not ready to give up his sideline as a mob gofer; the FBI agent whose wife's inept stock-market plays are driving them into bankruptcy. By novel's end, Higgins pulls enough of the plotcords together to fashion an intricate, tantalizing t knot. All of his signature touches are present, yet the book has a grittier feel than much of his recent work (The Agent; Swan Boats at Four). The themes are broader, the behavior coarser and the coziness between cops and crooks oilier. And it's all wrapped in a dark brand of humor that a guy like Eddie Coyle would appreciate. (May)