cover image Defending Billy Ryan: A Jerry Kennedy Novel

Defending Billy Ryan: A Jerry Kennedy Novel

George V. Higgins. Henry Holt & Company, $21.95 (245pp) ISBN 978-0-8050-1677-2

Higgins ( The Friends of Eddie Coyle ), once a Boston lawyer, is known for his talky novels. In the third Jerry Kennedy tale, his narrator-hero's speech is wonderful--he's a crackling, supple raconteur. Following a bruising, impoverishing divorce in early 1986, the veteran Kennedy's law practice is moribund until Massachusetts Superior Court Justice Colin Ryan asks him to defend his father, the state's public works commissioner from time immemorial, against charges of corruption. Everybody knows Billy Ryan has been skimming at the public trough for years, but now an ambitious prosecutor has found a state representative who is willing to testify against him in court. Kennedy's story slips between 1986 and the present (readers must pay close attention) as he tells how things get done in the Bay State: lawyers, politicians and Mafiosi scratch backs in various ways, and they talk and talk and talk, colorfully and gloriously. Higgins's subtle examination of Boston Irish society is as acute as any by John O'Hara or Louis Auchincloss, but funnier. (Irish Alzheimer's? ``You forget everything but your grudges.'') Billy's wake and funeral are delicious. Author tour. (Sept.)