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Bomber's Law.

Bomber's Law probably will not become a cop movie. There are no shoot-outs, no car chases, no daring feats of athletic prowess. If George Higgins's portrayal of the Massachusetts state police is accurate, "stateies" spend all their time sitting around and talking, and there is lots of talk in this book. Long rambling narratives are written in a thick, nearly impenetrable Boston vernacular. In fact, the book is all talk and no action.

Fans of Higgins, who has written two dozen novels and is most widely recognized as the author of the Friends of Eddie Coyle, expect cerebral characters. In this case, they may have to work a little harder than usual to get to the heart of the story. That is because it takes about 100 pages to figure out which character is speaking and who or what the character is talking about.

The central character is Harry Dell'Appa. He is a new breed of yuppie cop. He views his job as an executive position, while the "old guard" cops consider the state police a paramilitary force. Dell'Appa bucks the hierarchy when he refuses to write reports, preferring to dictate them for later transcription by the secretaries. His enemies exploit his insubordination, and he is sent to the western part of the state, the Bay State equivalent of Elba, as punishment.

Dell'Appa is recalled when one of the old guard is getting ready to retire. The older cop, Detective Sargeant Brennan, has been on a stake-out of a suspected gangland assassin, Short Joey Mossi, for several years without getting a good lead, and Dell'Appa gets the case.

The stake-out is an interesting literary device in this book. Since there is nothing exciting about sitting around waiting for a subject to drive up, the observation post allows the author to construct the conversations--loopy, free-form monologues, really--that develop the characters and with the speed of an onrushing glacier advance the story.

Throughout the book, Dell'Appa listens. He has to attend to everyone's sorry story. His boss explains his land-poor plight in a chapter-long narrative that is illustrative of the dialogue throughout the book. One paragraph reads:

Well, no, it's not actually our house. Well, it's our house, now anyway, but that wasn't what it was supposed to be. It's really just the way it sort of worked out. See, this house, where it is and all, this, well, it wasn't our idea. It was never our idea to buy it is what I mean. Which, as a matter of fact, we didn't, although we're certainly buying it now and we're going to be, and not only for the foreseeable future either; also for the foreseeable one beyond that. Buying it, that is. For nine more years. At least. Heck, we didn't even want to move into it, but we more or less had to, and now the reason we moved in, the lady we moved in to be with, well, she isn't around anymore.

Between the wells, anyways, and matter of facts, a plot emerges. Dell'Appa takes over tailing Short Joey and becomes convinced that Brennan has purposely let Short Joey off the hook. The question becomes whether Brennan is merely seeking early retirement or his leaving means something more. The final confrontation between Dell'Appa and Brennan is a satisfying summation of all the hints Higgins has dropped throughout the book.

Higgins has been called a Bay State Beckett or a thinking reader's Elmore Leonard. It may be that in Bomber's Law Higgins let his literary ambitions get ahead of the more prosaic duty of storytelling. Those who read the book will get a full dose of Boston verite.
COPYRIGHT 1994 American Association for Justice
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1994, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Van Gelder, Biz
Publication:Trial
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 1, 1994
Words:608
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