Brief Reviews

At End of Day

The last novel of the late George V. Higgins shows no hint of failing skill or mellowing temper. The dialogue is as raffishly eloquent as ever, the action as disconcerting to the lawfully minded, and the author's underlying attitude what it has regularly been -- a plague on all your houses. The story is densely packed with characters whose positions are initially murky and with events that display no immediate connections, leading the reader through a labyrinth of guesswork in pursuit of a plot that does not, in a standard sense, exist. Higgins is describing the business of a Boston racketeer and the system by which it operates -- a network of people who do what they are told (frequently with good humor and no moral qualms), plus a long-established détente with federal law officers. Progress is not what the boss wants. If serious violence becomes necessary, he takes personal action. An assassination described meticulously, move by precise move, is bone-chilling in its patient efficiency. Questions of law and justice, as discussed by the characters, become almost equally unnerving. Higgins was a brilliantly clever, savagely bitter observer of society. His death is a severe loss.

A Fly for the Prosecution

Mr. Goff is a professor of entomology at the University of Hawaii. He is also a specialist in determining time of death by examination of the type and condition of insects battening on a corpse. Forensic entomology is not a pretty job, and is frequently so unpleasant that Mr. Goff's helpers profess illness and stay at home. The author does his best to keep nausea to a minimum -- with limited success, given his materials. The subject is interesting, however, because it describes a technique seldom mentioned in public and often of great importance in a criminal investigation.

War and Revenge

Mr. Judah is a journalist who has observed Balkan affairs for ten years. His report on Kosovo begins with medieval history and legend, containing less of the former than of the latter. As he points out, "In Kosovo, history is war by other means."Outside observers reported more or less objectively on Kosovo and its neighbors in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and their reports were of constant quarrels and hostilities. Suppressed during Tito's regime, these have now resurfaced, as virulent and brutal as they were centuries ago. Mr. Judah describes events in modern Kosovo in thorough detail and with a serious attempt at fairness to all parties. His book will be of great value to anyone who wishes to know exactly what has been done, and when, and by whom, during the current upheaval. Readers with a less profound concern are likely to fall back on the simple, pessimistic conclusion that peaceful compromise has never been known in Kosovo and never will be.

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