Higgins was famous for creating memorable characters in hard-boiled fiction and telling his stories through dialogue. According to The New Yorker, "Higgins is almost uniquely blessed with a gift of voices, each of them...as distinctive as the fingerprint." Higgins said his purpose was to replace the omniscient author with the omniscient reader.
Despite his success at writing crime and legal fiction, Higgins didn’t consider himself a crime writer.
"He denied that he wrote mysteries: he wrote novels about characters who had troubles with the law, some of whom were professional criminals," said USC English professor Dr. Matthew Bruccoli. In a 1993 review of his book Defending Billy Ryan Higgins admitted his affinity in writing about criminals because they are "people who are violent and unpredictable and who break codes and laws and all sorts of solemn promises, are more interesting than the people who behave themselves," he said.
Higgins on Higgins:
"It never occurred to me not to write...I love what I do and I always have."
"The quotes make the story...Dialogue is character and character is plot."
"Unfortunately I’ve been typed as a crime writer. I never thought I was."
"Every morning I rewrite what I wrote yesterday."
"Your material is where you find it...Every book I have written is set in New England,
and everyone I probably will write is going to be set in New England."
"You can’t teach writing...You’ve got to learn to write on your own."
"I have lived with the recurring fear that some day my editors will call me up and say: see here, we’ve been paying you good money for hard work, and now we find out you’ve just been having a big time for yourself – give it back."
In response to the question "Do you ever not finish a book?: "Oh yeah, I’ve got lots of false starts."