Monday, September 09, 2013

Elmore and I

Everyone knows by now that Elmore Leonard died last month.  It was heartening to see how much people liked him and his work.  I have been a fan of his for some 20 years now - but have harbored a terrible secret about my relationship with Elmore Leonard:  I have never read an Elmore Leonard novel.

I own about 13 of his books.  I started buying them sometime after the book Get Shorty came out. Recently I found in my collection a new and unread first edition hard cover copy of Rum Punch with a lottery ticket in it from September 1992.  (The ticket was not a winner.)  I know I listened to the abridged versions of Get Shorty and Out of Sight read by the great Joe Mantegna.  But that doesn't count as having read them, I don't think.  I saw film version of Stick when it first came out (before I knew who Elmore Leonard was) and I saw Get Shorty on videotape.  Leonard has been interviewed many times on NPR (most often on Fresh Air - really good interviews about all of his work and also many interviews about adaptations of his work) and I have read dozens of profiles of him and reviews of his books over the years. More recently I've been reading blog posts about him.   For not having ever properly read his work, I always felt that I knew a lot about Elmore Leonard.  In fact, I can't think of many people whose careers I have followed that I know as much about.

When I heard the news that he was hospitalized after suffering a stroke, I realized I was going to end up as one of those people who only starts to read Leonard because he has just died.  And sure enough I started Unknown Man #89 the night he did.

So far I have read Unknown Man #89, The Switch, and City Primeval.  I am currently reading Gold Coast. (Cat Chaser came in the mail today.) And I have been very impressed by what I have read.  I mean, I always assumed I would really like him.  I think I was partly put off by how colorful some of his characters are.  Like they are interesting to hear about but that I might not want to spend 300 pages in their company.  One of the blurbs used in Cat Chaser, from the Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, but originally, it seems, from a review of Tishomingo Blues in the Baltimore Sun, says "Dashiell Hammett may have invented the genre, and Carl Hiaasen might be funnier at it on his best day, but the debate over who's the all-time king of the whack job crime novelists just ended. Living or dead, Elmore Leonard tops 'em all."  And therein lies the problem - I do not have a high tolerance for whack job crime novelists.  But so far, this has not been much of a problem.

Each book I have read reminds me a different crime writer.  Unknown Man #89, which movingly and unexpectedly becomes about alcoholism and addiction, made me think Leonard was going to be like Lawrence Block.  But then The Switch was more like a the sort of farce Michael Frayn would write if he were to try his hand at a crime novel.  City Primeval, by far the best Leonard book I have consumed in any form, calls to mind a prolix Richard Stark.  And now Gold Coast reads like a Carl Hiaasen novel - though given when it was written means Carl Hiaasen writes Gold Coast era-like Elmore Leonard novels (with mobsters and dolphins and the enforced chastity of mafioso widows).

If all goes well, I have copies to read of Split Images, Cat Chaser, Stick, LaBrava, Glitz, Bandits, Freaky Deaky, Maximum Bob, Rum Punch, and Pronto.  I regret having waited so long to read his books but the stack I have to read is quite the silver lining.