Picks and Pans Review: Penance for Jerry Kennedy

updated 04/01/1985 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 04/01/1985 01:00AM

by George V. Higgins

It's fortunate that cynicism doesn't come by the pound. If it did, nobody would ever be able to lift any of Higgins' novels, let alone read them. His characters—mostly lawyers, judges and criminals operating in and around Boston—do, however, have a peculiar appeal, world-weary and deflated as they almost invariably are. This novel focuses on the criminal lawyer introduced in Higgins' 1980 novel, Kennedy for the Defense. Kennedy is now beset with problems: He has lost an important case involving his accountant. Another client, a car thief who specializes in Cadillacs, is giving him grief. His wife and daughter are mad at him. A TV reporter is doing a hatchet job on him. His secretary is complaining. The IRS is after him. Though this novel relies more on character and less on conversation than most of Higgins' books, it still depends mainly on the author's unique way with dialogue. (The accountant, explaining how he told a mob boss whose books he kept that he would be going on trial, says, "Nunzio is tactful—he don't ask if I will talk. I am diplomatic too—I don't ask him not to kill me.") While the story bogs down in subplots in the middle and Higgins brings the plot elements together in a slightly shaggy, low-key way, it's hard to stop reading. Higgins' novels are like traffic accidents, never pretty but always irresistible. (Knopf, $16.95)

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