Crimezine love, love, loves to hate movies with song title names, but in the case of Killing Them Softly we can make an exception and that reason is George V Higgins.
But let’s get one thing straight right from the start, [one time] the Fugees [two times] did not write the tune Killing Me Softly. It was written by Norman Gimbel and Charles Fox and originally performed by folk music poppet Lori Leiberman, before being popularized by seventies legend Roberta Flack.
So what about George V Higgins? we hear you ask. George is dead. He died in 2000. But before he died he wrote some of the greatest crime novels you have never read, twenty-seven of them to be precise. George was a busy guy. A Stanford educated Lawyer, newspaper columnist and college professor, from Brockton Massachusetts. He wrote columns for the Boston Globe and the Wall Street journal. He also combated organized crime, in his position as Assistant U.S. Attorney for the state of Massachusetts.
Higgins’ first book The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1970) was deemed an overnight success. What few people know is that Higgins had been writing crime novels for 17 years at that point, and he says, he destroyed 14 of them as unpublishable. A measure of how seriously he takes his work perhaps.
Cogan’s Trade (1974) is Higgins’ third published book, the novel on which the film Killing Them Softly is loosely based —Set in Boston gangland, [New Orleans in the movie] it is the down beat story of a poker heist gone awry. Local face Johnny Amato is the man with the plan. But if he thinks he is going to pull one over on the mob, he figures wrong—because gun-toting enforcer Jackie Cogan is quickly on his trail. Jackie has a nose for treachery and a twitchy trigger finger to match. Will things get messy?—damn right they will.
The plot of Cogan’s Trade is dialogue driven and the reader, is charged with the task of pulling out the relevant clues from the chatter, as the gangsters bitch and whine about the minutiae of their lives. With this knowledge in mind, one can perhaps see why actors such as James Gandolfini and Ray Liotta were chosen to star alongside moody glamour puss Brad Pitt in the movie. Perhaps Crimeziners who love the retro chic of George Pelecanos’s awesome Derek Strange novels will also notice a certain [ahem] influence at work?
One last thing Crimeziners, the song Killing Me Softly is not based on Lori Leiberman’s reaction to Don [American Pie] McLean’s song Empty Chairs, as widely reported. Norm Gimbel says the idea came from a novel given him by Argentinian composer Lalo Schifrin [who wrote the Mission Impossible theme tune] The original line concerned a piano player who was killing me softly with his blues. But Gimbel switched the line around. So now you know. This tape will self destruct in five seconds…