Books: Ends And Means OUTLAWS

by George V. Higgins Henry Holt; 360 pages; $18.95

Much has been made of George Higgins' gift of gab and nose for original sin. Much should be made. Since The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1972), the lawyer- novelist has proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that he is more than a prolific genre writer about Boston's hoods and pols. His 13 novels have moved steadily beyond a cynical cop's-eye view toward a harsh realism that is informed by experience, reflection and cauterizing wit.

Outlaws is about the evils that men and women do in the name of ideology, patriotism and self-interest. It is also about character as asserted through...