This past week Elmore Leonard (the Dickens of Detroit) passed. Rightly so, writers and readers alike have offered up heartfelt condolences and tributes, some from around the world. Leonard was a true master. Along with Ed McBain, Donald Westlake, and maybe a handful of other crime writers, Leonard was consistently great at his craft. There were never any let-downs when new works of his appeared in bookstores … there was never a mail-it-in effort … there were no duds, no “mehs”. Book after book, Leonard held his audience captive with the smoothest of writing. Predictable endings never mattered. It was never about the plot. It was getting there that made it so much fun; the enjoyment was the journey, getting from first to last page.
Although my favorite three crime novels were penned by George V. Higgins, and for me no other crime novels compare to The Friends of Eddie Coyle, The Diggers Game and Cogan’s Trade, there was never a contest between Leonard and Higgins as regards consistency—Leonard wins that one hands down. Higgins wrote a few novels, both crime and literary, that were unreadable (for me) … and I gave them each more than a few tries. Some of the stream of conscious dialogue he used, often going on for pages, literally gave me headaches.
If I had an issue with Leonard, it was what I found when reading too much of him at once (i.e., back-to-back novels). For me, Leonard sometimes went a little heavy on the use of character introspection. It is a personal preference of mine to have less introspection, not a condemnation of how or why Leonard used it. That said, it only bothered me if I was reading back-to-back Leonard novels. Picking up any Leonard book out of the blue and reading the first few lines instantly hooked me and put me well on my way to the end ... smiling most of the way. In that regard, Leonard’s ability to sustain his craft over the long haul was truly magical.
What I loved (it sucks to now have to use the past tense) most about Leonard’s work, the clever dialogue aside, was the fact I knew I would NEVER be disappointed. The last few years, although I haven’t reread him as much as I’d like, I have picked up Mr. Paradise a few times. That one, along with Glitz (my introduction to Leonard a long time ago), Get Shorty, Maximum Bob, and Tishomingo Blues, are probably my favorites. I have yet to read his last two and will no doubt do so in the near future.
It is fitting that Leonard was a big fan of George V. Higgins. He wrote a forward to a reprint of Higgins biggest success, The Friends of Eddie Coyle, I often point to (paying it forward) for the sake of aspiring writers, so they aren’t discouraged by the process of finding an agent (that can often seem to take forever). From that forward: (Elmore Leonard’s words):
Still, getting published was tough. Along the way from Stanford to Eddie Coyle, Higgins wrote as many as ten books that he either discarded or were rejected by publishers—perhaps for the same reason my first novel with a contemporary setting, The Big Bounce, was rejected by publishers and film producers eighty-four times in all, editors calling the book a “downer,” devoid of sympathetic characters—the same ones I’m writing about thirty [make that 40] years later. Higgins’ agent at the time of Eddie Coyle read the manuscript, told him it was unsalable and dropped him. Let this be an inspiration to beginning writers discouraged by one rejection after another. If you believe you know what you’re doing, you have to give publishers time to catch up and catch on.
In the beginning, both Higgins and I had to put up with labels applied to our work, critics calling us the second coming of Raymond Chandler. At the time we first met, at the Harbourfront Reading Series in Toronto, George and I agreed that neither of us had come out of the Hammett-Chandler school of crime writing. My take on the Friends of Eddie Coyle, for example—which I’ve listed as the best crime novel ever written—makes The Maltese Falcon read like Nancy Drew. Our method in telling stories has always been grounded in authenticity based on background data, the way it is as well as the way such people speak. We also agreed that it’s best not to think too much about plot and begin to stew over where the story is going. Instead, rely on the characters to show you the way.
Elmore Leonard, a true master of his craft, will be sorely missed.
RIP Mr. Leonard.
Check out Da Crew ... Gerald So, Thomas Pluck and Charlie Stella (tag team partners), Glenn G Gray (the stud), Suzanne Solomon (the hottie), Jack Getze, Teel James Glenn (the smart ones), Todd Robinson (Big Daddy Thug his own bad self), Scott Adlerberg and Bradley Sands (the guys who make you smile) at Shade (the bar).
Check out Sons of Stella (Charles and Dustin), the Principessa Ann Marie and Stephen Trynosky (one of the really good guys from the conservative site that is always kicking me off for being an obnoxious S.O.B.) ...
That’s me above doing my Luciano Pavarotti impersonation … I had a towel, but it fell off my shoulder and there was no way I could pick it up without embarrassing myself and leaning on two or three people while I tilted and maybe took out a wall.
That's the Stella stare on my granddaughter, Evelyn Amelia Stella ... she's with her daddy (Charles, not Charlie, Stella) on the beach in Delaware ... it's best not to piss this girl off.
Noir at the Bar … last Sunday night, the first time I’ve been back to Manhattan since getting a “stopping” ticket on Water Street while waiting to pick up the Principessa Ann Marie. $165 later, it was fock you, too, Mayor Mike …
But we found a spot on Houston alongside the NYU dorms (one block from Arturo’s coal oven pizza joint) and had a short walk to The Shade Bar where we met some wonderful new people, were glad to see some old friends, and thoroughly enjoyed listening to some very talented writers. Hosted, as always, by Glenn Gray and Todd (Thug Lit/The Big Bounce) Robinson … how much do so many of us owe these guys? Quite a bit, amici.
So what does a guy like me have in common with a Pulitzer Prize Winner? How about the same editor, Peter Skutches … yeah, that’s what I’m talking about. I can’t tell yous how much of a surprise it was to see Gilbert King Sunday night. It’s the first time we’ve met and he wasn’t even aware of how much I loved his book (the Pulitzer winner) … a MUST READ (get it here) for everyone, yous ask me … especially those who can’t understand the fears minorities have over insane laws like Stand Your Ground/shoot first, ask questions later.
Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America was reviewed right here at TK … click on the link.
So what's up with Of Human Bondage, fatso, yous ask ...
Of Human Bondage … well, not much to say yet … I’m still at it … enjoying it thoroughly … even quoting from it from time to time … I’m finding a likeness to something Richard Yates often wrote about … specifically, as regards mediocrity: Monsieur Foinet to Philip (W. Somerset Maugham’s, Of Human Bondage) in regards to his [Philip’s] painting abilities. “It is cruel to discover one’s mediocrity only when it is too late. It does not improve the temper.”
My favorite aria … Una furtiva lagrima, from L'elisir d'amore (The Elixir of Love) by Gaetano Donizetti.
A really great song by The Rides (Stephen Stills, Kenny Wayne Sheperd and Barry Goldberg).