March 12, 1984 12:00 PM

George V. Higgins

It’s a wonder the Boston Chamber of Commerce didn’t ride Higgins out of town on a rail long ago. Certainly something is more than rotten in the state of Massachusetts if the corruption, crime and general all-around 24-hour-a-day cynicism in his fiction is any indication. The fast-reading 377 pages of nonstop wheeling and dealing in this political novel are typical of Higgins’ approach. Its focal point is the fat, shrewd, alcoholic Speaker of the State House who’s under siege from all sides—an ambitious reporter, an old rival, a prosecutor on the political make and even that rare character in a Higgins book, an honest cop. There are more descriptive passages than usual for Higgins, but this book is almost all dialogue. Arch, precious and almost too clever at times, the talk is nonetheless laced with sardonic wit. “In our society, my man,” says an ambitious black lawyer, “one of the indications that you are not partly nuts is that you’re grabbing every dollar that somebody else has not put in his pocket yet. Shrinks have to grub the money, man. Shrinks don’t want the people thinking they’re crazy.” At one point, the Speaker tells a critic, “You can’t hurt me with my people and I haven’t got yours behind me anyway, no matter if I turn into Jesus tomorrow and announce that every one of them is saved.” Despite its shortage of onstage violence, sex or real action of any kind, the conversations in the novel create an energy of their own. Higgins deftly concludes his tale describing a couple of grisly deaths and a passel of compromises. Only people who enjoy watching scorpions fight would call all of this fun. It’s a captivating novel, though—subtly pointed and all too plausible. (Knopf, $16.95)

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