cover image Swan Boats at Four

Swan Boats at Four

George V. Higgins. Henry Holt & Company, $23 (228pp) ISBN 978-0-8050-3077-8

Though Higgins's trademark Boston lowlifes, pols and lawyers are absent from this moderately engaging detour into high society, his trademark long monologues are definitely present: the protagonist's opening screed against federal bureaucrats runs to about 7000 words. Sixty-ish Massachusetts banker David Carroll and his wife, Frances, are on the London-to-New York maiden voyage of a refurbished luxury liner, a trip that Frances booked even though, 12 years earlier, David had a fling with the liner's 30-year-old marketing manager, Melissa. The Carrolls are forced to share a table with elegant retired Yankee Burton Rutledge, who regales them with stories of his late wife, her life and loves--at every meal for five days. Rutledge's tale is often convoluted, containing dialogue within dialogue. It's unlikely and ambiguous as well (Is Rutledge ever telling the truth?), and the Carrolls come off as self-absorbed and boring. But Higgins (Bomber's Law) keeps everything aloft on clouds of effortless hot air--or at least until the shaggy-dog ending. Rights: ICM. (June)