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Friday, September 14, 2012

Bob's Books - The Friends of Richard Nixon by George Higgins

I have not read George Higgins’ highly acclaimed crime novel, The Friends of Eddie Coyle. I suspect, if I had, and had I liked it, I might have better appreciated his take on Watergate, The Friends of Richard Nixon. Though, since I didn’t particularly like the latter, it’s possible I might only have better understood the style, while still not caring much for it.

Higgins likes to be clever. This book oozes clever. It screams, “Look how witty I am. I am clever.” Here is ONE sentence on page four:

“To those bereaved by the works of murders; to those raped, robbed, mugged, dispirited by the loss of their possessions, or enraged by the violation of their children, or unalterably convinced that untrammeled traffic in dirty books, pictures and films will certainly proliferate rapists and child molesters: to that vast popular majority which fears that legal cession of a monopoly on the use of force, to the government, under the social contract, is not in fact a matter of unanimous consent, too – sedulous attention to the rights of those accused is not a welcome course of conduct.”

Throughout, Higgins’ book cries out, ‘I’m a good Boston lawyer and let me tell you about those bad White House people from California. And know lots of big words, too.’ I’m no Nixon fan, but Higgins’ writing makes one think of the ‘Eastern Establishment’ types that Nixon was always railing against. 

Higgins was a lawyer, including a US Attorney for Massachusetts and there’s no denying his insights into the system bring something to the table; they certainly give a unique look at Earl Silbert, who was the US Attorney for DC and led the initial Watergate investigation. He paints a more positive picture of Silbert’s efforts than most.

But, literally every page has at least one sentence like this: “It constituted recognition that the existence of additional defendants, one of them placed fairly high in ostensibly respectable circles, implied the possibility that one or more unidentified people might have it in mind to balk the orderly processes of justice.” 

Higgins should have spent less time trying to write highbrow prose and just put together sentences that a reader didn’t have to parse and try to understand. His opinions on the justice system and law enforcement are sometimes insightful and sometimes just condescending. I enjoyed some parts of this book, but on the whole, found it to be annoying. And that’s not usually a good thing to say about a book.

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