cover image Change of Gravity

Change of Gravity

George V. Higgins. Henry Holt & Company, $25 (464pp) ISBN 978-0-8050-4815-5

The premise of ex-prosecutor Higgins's (The Friends of Eddie Coyle, etc.) 21st novel, a meandering tale of dirty state politics, has great potential. A grand jury in the district of Canterbury, Mass., is getting ready to indict Dan Hilliard, ex-Chairman of the state's House Ways and Means Committee, and they want his lifelong pal Ambrose Merrion, the Canterbury District Court Clerk, to give them the dirt they need to put Hilliard away. What's the dirt--and will Merrion give it up save his own skin? The answers are scattered over 30 years of flashbacks and--unfortunately--through 400 pages of ""conversations,"" chiefly monologues from attractive, well-rounded but ultimately similar-sounding characters who relate background information in speeches too unfocused to create tension or atmosphere. (The most promising member of the cast, a black woman judge who finds herself overseeing Hilliard's downfall, disappears too soon and resurfaces too late to save the action.) Clearly, Higgins means to circle his material a la Faulkner, winding only gradually down to what Hilliard and Merrion did to deserve that investigation, but for once his ear for class and dialect fails him. His exchanges (such as they are) lack dramatic shifts, and his characters' actual misdeeds never quite justify the time he spends setting them up. (Sept.)