I knew this was coming, even more so after I read he had a stroke a few weeks ago, but Elmore Leonard has died.
Most people would be familiar with him only through the movies based on his books, a shame considering that the books are great while the movies are mostly dreadful.
The first Leonard novel I read was 52 Pick-Up, some cheap creased-up paperback copy. Two hundred pages of pure crime delight. I started picking up ragged Leonard novels when I could find them, but never got around to reading another one.
But then I listened to an audiobook version of Road Dogs, read by the inimitable Frank Muller, and went on a real tear. Freaky Deaky, Rum Punch, Riding the Rap, Mr. Paradise, Tishomingo Blues.
I started recognizing patterns and repetitions. Road Dogs, Freaky Deaky, Mr. Paradise, all three of them were variations on a theme. A rich guy betrayed by his hirelings while the bystander hero picks up the crumbs. That's the basic plot, the framework, and yet each one has different interesting shades, the sun-soaked romance of Road Dogs or the counter-cultural side effects in Freaky Deaky.
You can't fault the guy for writing the same story over and over any more than you can fault a painter for only painting on canvas. He found a story that worked for the characters and language he wanted to work in, and by only switching up the details he made sure that every one was a masterpiece.
His last published novel, though, Raylan, while still recognizably the work of a master, seemed rushed and half-assed. It seemed like it was a couple of shorter stories stitched together and each one got a little less interesting as it went, until the last one ended with Raylan in an improbable romance with a college-age poker stud.
After reading that one, I thought "The end is nigh." Leonard was well into his 80s when he wrote it and while there was no apparent senility, there was a weary tiredness to it. It was the work of a man who had three or four more books to write, but at his age....all that typing? What's the point?
I suspect we'll be getting a lot of posthumous Leonard novels. The man was nothing if not prolific, a benefit so to speak of having a reliable plot-line. I also suspect that much of it will not be good. The good stuff...
That's all sitting in the used paperback section of your favorite thrift store. Go get it.