Coogan’s Trade is the basis for the upcoming movie Killing Them Softly, starring Brad Pitt.
Cogan's Trade is the top-notch crime novel rated by the The New Yorker as the "best" from "the Balzac of the Boston underworld". Crackling dialogue, mordant humor, and unremitting tension drive the suspenseful stakes of the game higher in Boston's precarious underworld of small-time mobsters, crooked lawyers, and political gofers as George V. Higgins, the writer who boiled crime fiction harder, tracks Jackie Cogan's career in a gangland version of law and order. For Cogan is an enforcer; and when the Mob's rules get broken, he gets hired to ply his trade: murder.
In the gritty, tough-talking pages of Higgins' 1974 national best-seller, Cogan is called in when a high-stakes card game under the protection of the Mob is heisted. Expertly, with a ruthless businessman's efficiency, a shrewd sense of other people's weaknesses, and a style as cold as his stare, Cogan moves with reliable precision to restore the status quo as ill-conceived capers and double-dealing shenanigans erupt into high-voltage violence.
There are authors who write crime novels, authors who write Boston crime novels, and then there is George V. Higgins. Cranking out one book a year for pretty much every year from 1972 until his death in 1999, Higgins is a man who knows his business. He knows it from growing up in Rockland, from attending law school at Boston College, from serving as Assistant U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts, and from writing for The Boston Globe. It's no wonder that Higgins established himself very early on, in 1974, when Cogan's Trade made its mark on the best-seller list. He ushered in a new era of writing about the mafia, putting less emphasis on the twisted alliances and surprise endings, and focusing instead on character-driven dialogue.
Higgins is known for long tangents where the wise guys are sitting around doing what they do best: not settling scores, which they always seem to bungle, but simply cracking wise and shooting their mouths off. That's why Jeff Woodman is a perfect fit as narrator. Woodman is well known for his character studies, and has no trouble jumping deftly from accent to accent. He handles the small-time Southie ex-con with the same ease as big shot Brahmin bosses, dropping R's and filling up his nose with vowels wherever necessary. Higgins has constructed some really beautiful and hilarious digressions here, and Woodman takes on each monologue with a precise ear and a credible vision of the character.
The plot is also a classic: a mafia guy holds up his own card game, and a few months later, some other crooks hold up the same game with plans to blame the guy who did it the first time. Jackie Cogan is the hit man sent in to sort out who did it, and if it cannot be sorted out, to simply kill all the likely suspects. Cogan's no-nonsense approach to the mission makes him the straight man for every sarcastic slime ball he encounters along the way. The listener has all the clues and is just waiting for Cogan to catch on, so the real treat is what George V. Higgins intended it to be. Sit back and listen to Jeff Woodman render all the witty banter Boston has to offer. Megan Volpert
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Talk is cheap, life is cheaper still
Yes - I'm a crime fan from way back and George V. Higgins is a master storyteller - especially in capturing authentic, hard-boiled voices that drive his narrative along. Jeff Woodman is a skilled reader and I think it's a good combination.
Well - it's a stylistic thing. I enjoyed the amount of talking that goes on in this book without any direct relationship to the basic storyline. But I realise I'm probably among the minority and there will be some people who find George V. Higgins spends too much time letting his characters talk - and not enough pushing along a story.
Yes- and he uses pause to good effect - not something every reader can do.
Apparently Brad Pitt is doing a version this year - under the title
There's plenty of coarse language and violence in this story. If you're squeamish - I'd recommend something less sanguine. But if you're a fan of Elmore Leonard, Andrew Vacchs or Eugene Izzi or maybe like movies by Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino or even TV shows like The Sopranos - then I think you'd enjoy this.
- Terrance Ferguson