Friday, July 16, 2010

Review of Cogan’s Trade by George V. Higgins (1974, Robinson)

Frankie and Russell, two young hoods, have recently been released from prison and immediately slip back into their old criminal ways.  Johnny ‘Squirrel’ Amato thinks of himself as a bit of criminal mastermind – he conceives the plans; people like Frankie and Russell do the handiwork.  The plan is to hold-up a high stakes card game which has some connected players, and to pin the blame on someone else.  Jackie Cogan’s job is to keep the criminal underworld in order; punishing those that step out of line or pursue their own agenda without getting prior approval from the local godfathers.  Amato’s plan is most executed without approval, which means Cogan needs to identify the perpetrators and settle a score. 

Cogan’s Trade is a relatively simple story consisting of just nineteen extended scenes.  Each scene is largely conversational, with little in the way of action.  Interestingly, Higgins simply drops the reader into conversations and then lets them try to work out what is happening – a bit like taking a seat on a bus and overhearing a conversation taking place between nearby passengers and trying to work out what is being discussed, the context, how threads intertwine, who they might be talking about, etc.  It’s an interesting approach and for the most part works well.  The only downside is that the dialogue often has little to do with the plot – it’s just everyday chat that works to give a portrait of the small number of characters.  As a result, the style tends to work at the expense of the plot.  I love dialogue driven stories, but it has to serve the plot.  Personally I would have preferred some of the conversations to be trimmed back to the mostly relevant bits and a doubling of the number of scenes.  Overall, an interesting and enjoyable read with first rate dialogue, but the plot falls a little short for my tastes.


George said...

Most crime readers know THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE, but COGAN'S TRADE is almost as good. I'm also fond of DIGGER'S GAME. Great writing in all of Higgins' novels!

pattinase (abbott) said...

I have only read TFOEC but this one looks pretty good.

Unknown said...

Although somewhat difficult to decipher, TFOEC is a good novel. Not so Cogan's Trade. Author relies on his domain of dialogue, but a novel is made of other aspects: plot, descriptions, settings, to name a few. Higgins is good at dialogue, but not at the other aspects. He hit a pot of gold with his first book and fell into a formula. What a pity.