Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Closing the Book on Elmore Leonard

The obit read: “Elmore Leonard, crime fiction writer, died on August 20th, aged 87.” I didn’t catch up with that news until I opened my issue of “The Economist” (August 31, 2013) to the obit page: There was the author looking miffed, shaking a fist at me. Sorry, I thought: I’ve been meaning to read something of his ever since we graduated together August 1949 from the Jesuit University of Detroit, he with a business degree, mine in philosophy; we were eras apart from the start. 

And psychologically even more distant. He started out writing ad copy for Chevrolets. I despised the Car Culture that corrupted the emerging metropolis. And I confess I was something of a Patsy, never in a fistfight in my entire life. (Still true!) And yet my closest UD chum, Henry B. Maloney (“Call me Hank!”) was a Leonard Freak. Checking Google today, Henry was quoted in the first six citations! Partly geographical: Hank lived in Troy, due North from Detroit Proper, and Kitty Korner from the Upper Sloburb Bloomfield Hills where Leonard lived like a prince. (I lived due East of UaD where the Nouveau Pauvre were invading their first new house, courtesy of FDR’s New Deal.

So instead of attending his Funeral Mass, I checked out the expat American’s secret weapon, the Universal Library Union whereby you can order by computer for 1.5 Euros whatever American book your German library didn’t have, and didn’t care! (Nearly everything!) Bless Göttingen University, a required pitstop for intellectually upward Amis as early as the beginning of the 19th century. Before the week was out, I held his “Road Dogs” (William Morrow, 2009) for a month if necessary

Taught to climb the shoulders of other better informed citizens, I Googled the poet Robert Pinsky’s review (New York Times, May 28, 2009): In his review,”Playing Dirty”he characterized the novel as “about the varying degreees of truth and baloney in human relationships.Sometimes the truth or the baloney is lethal. Droll and exciting, enriched by the self-aware, what-the-hell-why-not insouciance of a master now in his mid-80s,”Road Dogs”—underlying its material of sex, violence and money, and beyond its cast of cons and thugs and movie stars—presents interesting questions.” 
Leonard had the chutzpah to rerun old characters in new books. Or maybe this strange habit derived when he began writing western tales in the 1950’s for two cents a word. Three retreads bear the burden of this novel. There’s Cundo Roy, a Cuban Castro bequeathed to America that became great friends with another export, Jack Foley, the esteemed anti-hero who preens with the fact that he has robbed more banks than anyone else in history. (So far as we know! A Fed who tries to put him back in jail is writing a novelized biography of Jack—and hopes he’ll do another robbery—to hype the book he is finishing.” (Another novel centers on Jack’s seducing the girlfriend of that Fed!) All characters seem to need to be ready to be reused in another story line.” 

Finally, there’s Dawn, a really raunchy broad who is waiting for Cundo to be freed from the prison where he got to be a great friend of Jack. I don’t think you’ll surprised to learn that Jacks bangs and bangs Dawn until the sun comes up. Again and again. Another motif is that they all have fiscal assets, Cundo’s being two million dollar mansions in Venice, California! And they fantasize without end on changing those ownerships.

I’m not going to spoil your weekend by telling you which of the three kills of the remaining characters. I recently stumbled on German across a film based on his “Jackie Brown” novel. She’s an airline stewardess serving Mexico. Her second job is taking stolen drug funds in and out of the country. Her ATF contacts compromise her so she has to do away with them. HoHum. I look forward to seeing “Out of Sight” a Steven Soderbergh film starring George Clooney, on another Leonard novel. Heh, Hank’s daughter Caitlin was even aide to Soderbergh for several years. It’s a tight life supplying L.A. I must conclude with a Leonard lark over Catholicism in “Road Dogs”. 

Chapter Twenty-Two(for impatient readers) concerns a minor character Little Jimmy who has a heavy conscience crisis.The sinner is on his knees in a confessional. Jimmy confesses: “Bless me father for I have sinned. It has been twenty-seven years since my last confession.” “Twenty seven years?” the stunned padre replies “Yes, Father. Since the I have missed Mass almost 1400 times.” And so on, implausibly. It turns out Jimmy was gay and didn’t think doing it with dudes was a sin! 

It’s called comic relief! You’ll love him. But not as often as Jack scores with Dawn, in the early light.

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