I remember the first time I heard the name Elmore Leonard, and I still remember how it felt. Not one of his 45 books had it on the cover, and not one of his many movies had it in the credits. It was on a bad internet forum I used to go to when I was a teenager. It was a place where people shared short stories with each other. Some fiction, some creative nonfiction, and all of it is just really, really bad. These stories had a lot of exclamation points in them. Exclaimed and opined were used as tags for dialogue in these stories. Adverbs like “loudly” and “proudly” were used with those tags. One of these stories was written by someone with a snarky username that has long since been forgotten. They commented on one of these stories. There was also a long-forgotten reply to this one. It talked about how Elmore Leonard thought that exclamation points were bad. He thought anything other than “said” as a dialogue tag was bad. Adverbs to modify those tags were bad. If he were on the forum, Elmore Leonard would tell the author to fuck himself or herself. He might not have said that. If he had, I think he would have. He seemed like a kind, encouraging, and honest person. A lot of what he didn’t like were exclamation points, anything other than “said,” and any adverbs that went with them, but he didn’t mind. Those words are great advice for any writer out there. That part was very true.
If you want to be a good writer, you should read Ellmore Leonard. He is one of the best novelists of not only our time, but of all time, too. Here’s books from the late, great author they called “Dutch” to get you started.
Elmore Leonard is well-known for writing crime-filled mysteries, and he should be. But he also wrote Westerns like he was the bad son of Charles Portis and Sergio Leone, writing them like he was their son. Leonard’s fifth novel, Hombre, was a big hit when it came out in 1961. It’s now a Western classic. For this book, John Russell is a half-Apache man and he has to make a decision about whether to save himself or the white people he’s traveling with, who all hate him because he’s mixed race. Hombre is a well-known literary story that has both internal and external conflict. As a young reader, I started to pay attention to the Western genre because of this book. Everything else looked small next to it.
Right then, you thought he was more important to the Apaches than a friend or a boss. Nobody in the world would bet against him being a blood relative no matter what his name was. It was even more true when Mr. Mendez talked to him. I remember the first thing he said. When he said that he said, “Hombre.”
As you know, Harry Mitchell does not get angry. He fights back. Leonard’s eleventh book is an exciting thriller about a Detroit businessman (Mitchell) who cheats on his wife for the first time. People who aren’t very nice have filmed the whole thing, and they try to blackmail Mitchell for a hundred bucks. But, as the title says,
As a classic literary story, this is a classic Leonard story. It has a simple plot, sharp dialogue and interesting characters. It also has murder. As long as the stocking was on his face the man’s words were clear. This is what he said: “Take a seat, motherfucker. Home movies are on.
City Primeval: High Noon in Detroit
Leonard does a great job with this Western-style showdown between a Good Guy and a Bad Guy in one of his less-known books. Clement Mansell, better known as the “Oklahoma Wildman,” is Raymond Cruz’s number one target. He wants to keep him in prison for good. It’s clear that he wants to kill him. Both Mansell and Cruz think they deserve it. Mansell has been able to get away with murder in Detroit before, and now he’s killed a shady judge. This doesn’t bother Cruz as much as the fact that Mansell is getting away with murder in his town. A good person has to do bad things in another Leonard story. City Primeval is a rough-edged sumbitch, for sure.
“I’m a street person like you,” said the judge. “Your lawyer either doesn’t have her shit together or doesn’t care about you.” Because of this, he sent the defendant and Ms. Wilder out into the hall to “talk about it.” A judge said, “Look, you better take this plea, or your motherfucking ass is going to die.”
This was Leonard’s only novel to win an award. It won the Edgar Award for Best Novel in 1984. Leonard went on to win many lifetime achievement awards from different groups, but this one was the only one to win an award. Jean Shaw was famous for low-budget B-movies back in the day. Joe LaBrava used to be a Secret Service agent, but now he’s a private eye for her. But LaBrava may have taken on too much when he agreed to do this job. Turns out Shaw’s adventures on the big screen aren’t very different from her life when she’s not on screen. LaBrava is widely thought to be one of Leonard’s best novels. It might be the best. Take a look for yourself. Evelyn: “You should hand out purgatives with that shit, Evelyn.” There’s no way this guy is lying. I’ll be there for you.
‘Is he nice?’
‘He’s in his late 30s and looks good. It has dark hair, is medium height, and is on the thin side. He doesn’t have any style, but he looks good.
In one of Leonard’s more simple novels, a suburban couple is on the run from a pair of deranged con-artist hitmen who want to kill them. In Leonard’s writing, he shows that it’s not. Phone: “Hey, Chief? Is this your number?” Fuck you, then. My plan is to hire someone else.
There was no other way for this guy to talk. OK. The Blackbird knew what this person and his people thought of him. This is how it worked: He was a half-breed tough guy from Montreal who they gave the dirty jobs to one time. He was a little crazy. If you took the jobs, you took the way the people talked to you, too. If you thought you could get away with it, you said something back. If they needed you, you said something back if you could. A business meeting wasn’t social, but it was still social
Get Shorty is a rare thing in Leonard’s books: it doesn’t end all that bad. If you haven’t seen the 1995 movie “Chili” about Ernest “Chili” Palmer and Ray Bones, pick up this book right away. It tells their story. There are some things Palmer needs to work on. Bones’ boss, who he beat up 12 years ago, and a dead guy who owes Bones money.
Chili said, “You see a black leather jacket that is fingertip length and has lapels like a suitcoat?” Not at all. You owe me three seventy nine. He was told to look at the sign on the wall. WE CAN’T BE RESPONSIBLE FOR LOST BOOKS. Then Chili told him, “I bet you can, if you try.” I didn’t come down to sunny Florida to get my ass frozen in the cold. 🙂 Get the coat back or give me the money my wife paid for it at Alexander’s.
Quentin Tarantino made a movie about this story called “Jackie Brown.” It stars Pam Grier as a sultry flight attendant who runs money for illegal weapons dealer Ordell “Whitebread” Robbie. Leonard’s book was a good match for Tarantino’s style of writing. Small-time scams with big-time consequences are like Rum Punch, which is like the start of the scam. Dupes and twists and turns are inside each other. A must-read book.
Then Louis went to Texas. He fell again. Ordell had a million-dollar idea for him when he came home. He wanted to kidnap the wife of a man who was making money illegally and hiding it in the Bahamas. Louis agreed. The plan didn’t work out, so Louis said never again. Almost 13 years ago… He came up with another idea. Louis was able to tell. Their main reason for being there was to watch the skinheads and coneheads marching down the street.