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The Rat on Fire

By George V. Higgins

A riveting, blistering novel about the shady side of the law and the business side of the Boston underworld by the one and only George V. Higgins.

Jerry Fein is a small-time lawyer, occasional booking agent, and full-time slumlord. But he’s nobody’s fool. So when the tenants of his dilapidated buildings refuse to pay rent because of rats, Jerry knows just the man to help him—Leo Proctor, a professional arsonist, who can make a fire marshal look the other way for a little cash. But the heat is on over at the police station as well, and a couple of cops are suddenly feeling pressure from their superiors to produce tangible results, and something has got to give.

Full of showboating politicians, hardnosed cops, and lawyers a little too familiar with both sides of the law, The Rat on Fire is another Higgins masterpiece and an unflinching portrait of the Boston crime world.

George V. Higgins was the author of more than 20 novels, including the bestsellers The Friends of Eddie Coyle, Cogan’s Trade, and The Digger’s Game. He was a reporter for the Providence Journal and the Associated Press before obtaining a law degree from Boston College Law School in 1967. He was an assistant attorney general and then an assistant United States attorney in Boston from 1969 to 1973. He later taught creative writing at Boston University. He died in 1999.


“If you haven’t read George V. Higgins, you can’t call yourself a fan of crime fiction.” —Val McDermid

“The dialogue is everything, Runyonesque, dripping with lovely sewage.” —Christopher Wordsworth, The Observer (UK)

“A technical marvel … superb.” The New York Times

“Graveyard funny.” The Sunday Times (London)

“Top of Higgins’s ten best books.” Time Out

“If you are a Higgins fan, you should jump at this one.” Houston Chronicle

“If you haven’t read George V. Higgins, you can’t call yourself a fan of crime fiction.” —Val McDermid

More Raves for GVH

The Rat on Fire
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Orion Books (UK), 2013

Available as an e-book or in paperback from Vintage Crime.

Vintage Crime / Black Lizard, 2011

First published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1981.

Knopf, 1981

Killing Them Softly, the movie based on Cogan’s Trade, a novel by George V. Higgins, is now a major motion picture Starring Brad Pitt and a host of other big starts. Read about it. (The “legal free-for-all” over The Rat is resolved.)

The classic film version of The Friends of Eddie Coyle was reissued on DVD by Criterion in 2009. Read/hear appreciations on WBUR and the Boston Globe.

Foreign rights in George V. Higgins’s books are managed by the Marsh Agency in London (or contact LaFarge).

Also by George V. Higgins
The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1972)
The Digger’s Game (1973)†*^
Cogan’s Trade (1974)†*^
A City on a Hill (1975)
The Friends of Richard Nixon (1975)
The Judgment of Deke Hunter (1976)
Dreamland (1977)
A Year or So with Edgar (1979)
Kennedy for the Defense (1980)†^
The Rat on Fire (1981)†*^
The Patriot Game (1982)†*^
A Choice of Enemies (1984)
Style vs. Substance: Boston, Kevin White, and the Politics of Illusion (1984)
Penance for Jerry Kennedy (1985)†^
Imposters (1986)
Outlaws (1987)†*^
The Sins of the Fathers (1988)
Wonderful Years, Wonderful Years (1988)
The Progress of the Seasons (1989)
Trust (1989)†^
On Writing (1990)
Victories (1990)
The Mandeville Talent (1991)
Defending Billy Ryan (1992)†
Bomber’s Law (1993)†
Swan Boats at Four (1995)
Sandra Nichols Found Dead (1996)
A Change of Gravity (1997)
The Agent (1998)
At End of Day (2000)†*^
The Easiest Thing in the World: The Uncollected Fiction of George V. Higgins (ed. Matthew J. Bruccoli) (2004)

†Vintage (US), 2011/12
*Orion (UK), 2012