Badass Writer of the Week: George V. Higgins

  George V. Higgins

George V. Higgins

By Sean Tuohy

Daniel Ford and I have both recently made the city of Boston the place we call home. The small New England city is famous for its wicked accents, heavy drinking, love of winning and losing sports teams, and hardscrabble attitude. Because Boston is our home base, I figured we make this Friday’s Badass Writer of the Week a local.

Ladies and gents, please meet George V. Higgins. The Boston native was part writer, part lawyer, part teacher, and all-around all Boston badass. Go grab a Red Sox hat (Note from former New Yorker Daniel: “Over my pinstriped dead body”), gather round the water bubbler, and pound some chowdah as we explore the dark and well-written world of George V. Higgins.

To say Higgins was a Boston native is a bit of an understatement. He was born in Brockton, Mass., and then decided he didn’t need to leave Beantown to go to college. He went to Boston College (Another note from St. John’s alum Daniel: “Ugh”) for both his undergrad and law degree.

  Higgins in 1980

Higgins in 1980

However, Higgins didn't jump right in to law after graduating. First, he spent several years working for newspapers as a reporter and columnist. Growing bored with the beat, Higgins decided to go return to law. He had his own law firm for 10 years, but before that worked with the government to go up against the Mafia. The Boston Mafia. You know, some of the meanest, scariest, thugs on the planet. Higgins shrugged his shoulders and said, “Why not?”

It was during his time working to stop the mob that Higgins started writing. Higgins did for the Boston underworld what Elmore Leonard did for Detroit. He wrote about real thugs and let them speak to each other like human beings. Gritty dialog between two hardened criminals that really had nothing to do with the plot, but it was so well-written and so real you can't pull your eyes away. There was in fact little plot in Higgins books. What draws the read to his books is that he just let the characters speak clearly and live their lives. Higgins knew that the mean streets were the same as the Roman stage; drama unfolded in both places.

Growing bored with being a lawyer, Higgins became a college professional. Geez, what would this guy's LinkedIn profile have looked like?

And his career just got better over time. In the 1970s, Hollywood came knocking and bought the rights to The Friends Of Eddie Coyle. The film, made by Peter Yates and starring Robert Mitchum, is considered one of the best crime films of all time.

Higgins kept writing and doing all sorts of badass jobs until his death in 2000. His style and dialogue-heavy tough guys influenced writers like Shawn Ryan of “The Shield,” Quentin Tarantino, and dozen of other writers.

We assume he’s now ghostwriting for God and teaching St. Peter the finer points of the Boston accent.