We're switching it up a little bit this week. Rather than provide you with a biography of Elmore Leonard, we’re recommending our favorite Leonard yarns. The reason we picked him as our badass writer of the week should be pretty self-explanatory.
Sean Tuohy: Rum Punch is the first book that I thought really captured what living in South Florida is like. Elmore captured the vastness of the area and threw in some wicked, but oh-so real characters that leapt off the page. Leonard's characters always speak like real people and none of his prose feels forced. Rum Punch tells the story of a flight attendant stuck in the middle between gun runners, the FBI, and an honest bail bondsman Max Cherry. Cherry is one of the best characters to ever come from a Leonard book and brought to life on the silver screen by the great Robert Forster in Quentin Tarantino’s “Jackie Brown.” In the book, Cherry is a man who wants to do right by his pushy wife and an upstanding guy overall, but he is stuck working with scumbags who jump bail and ends up falling in love with the flight attendant. Drama, gunfire, and an ill-planned heist ensue. Rum Punch is a quick read that feels like an epic, which is why it’s one of Leonard’s best.
Daniel Ford: I’ve read Riding the Rap, Fire in the Hole, and Raylan, but my favorite Raylan Givens story penned by Elmore Leonard will always be Pronto. Harry Arno gets in trouble with bad people (the man is a Leonard criminal through and through: dopey, desperate, and money hungry) and runs off to Italy to hide. Raylan takes a vacation to track him down and keep him safe from Tommy Bucks (who has one of the best villain nicknames of all time: the Zip). Like all Leonard novels, the plot is less important than the colorful characters spouting terrific dialogue at every turn. Raylan, as always, is constantly exasperated and is constantly foiled by Harry’s enemies and by Harry himself. The bad guys do Leonard bad guy things, and Raylan does Raylan things, and people are shot and bleeding at the end. The novel’s finale, in which Raylan warns the Zip to leave Miami in 24 hours or he’ll shoot him, provided the recently concluded television series with plenty of earthy source material for its pitch perfect pilot. Pronto also includes what could quite possibly be my favorite Elmore Leonard lines of all time: “Raylan shot him” and a paragraph of description later, “Raylan shot him again.” What more do you need?
My edition of Pronto also included an interview with Elmore Leonard from 1998, in which he was asked why he kept writing. Here was his response:
“It’s the most satisfying thing I can imagine doing. To write that scene and then read it and it works. I love the sound of it. There’s nothing better than that. The notoriety that comes later doesn’t compare to the doing of it. I’ve been doing it for almost 47 years, and I’m still trying to make it better.”
We should all strive for such work ethic and humility.
Here are a few YouTube clips of Elmore Leonard that further prove he's much more of a badass writer than you are: