George V. Higgins, who died as At End of Day was going to press, reinvented the language of the crime novel with his ability to breathe life into the dialogue of the small-time hoodlum. At the end of all of Higgins's fictional days--from his first novel, The Friends of Eddie Coyle, to this practically posthumous work--lie 1,001 nights in which FBI agents and crime bosses become consonant-dropping, vowel-skewing, grammar-ignoring Scheherazades whose stories are recounted with the deadly accurate tone that became the author's trademark.
At End of Day tells the story of the downfall of Boston mobster Arthur McKeach; more precisely, it tells the story of those who tell the story of McKeach's undoing. In Higgins's world--though he could write a mean murder scene--crime is less an immediate event than a moment to which his characters return to weave complicated, often conflicting narratives. At the novel's center lies a problematic alliance between McKeach and his top henchman, Nick Cistaro, and FBI agents Darren Stoat and Jack Farrier: the mobsters provide information to the FBI about their Mafia rivals in return for protection. To say that the partnership serves to humanize both sides, or to claim that the yoke of creative necessity harnesses men who are ironically similar, is to pander to the obvious. Far better to relax into the intoxicating rhythms of the characters' language, as when McKeach attempts to educate a horrified Stoat in the underworld code of behavior:
His expression was calm, his tone the patient monotone, varied by occasional emphasis, that an earnest instructor would use addressing interested novices. 'But then the big guys get involved in private fights, one of them floats in onna tide? Reason don't matter--if he's big then his guys're involved, they don't have no choice. It's then a matter of honor. And besides, if the guys who aren't dead, if they expect to keep what they've got, well then, they'd better get involved too. Show some respect for their guy who is dead, and retaliate, right? Because otherwise the guys who did him'll come around and do them, take over his whole territory. So--never mind why he is dead, he is dead--revenge is their duty to him, and themselves, to show they're still men.'
McKeach lives, and others die, by this code; his unwavering control is the axis around which At End of Day revolves. Higgins fans both old and new will find themselves captivated by McKeach's authority and Higgins's hypnotic prose. --Kelly Flynn [via]