Artwork by JOE CIERDIELLO
NEW YORK TIMES: Elmore Leonard, the prolific crime novelist whose louche characters, deadpan dialogue and immaculate prose style in novels like “Get Shorty,” “Freaky Deaky” and “Glitz” established him as a modern master of American genre writing, died on Tuesday at his home in Bloomfield Village, Mich. He was 87. To his admiring peers, Mr. Leonard did not merely validate the popular crime thriller; he stripped the form of its worn-out affectations, reinventing it for a new generation and elevating it to a higher literary shelf. Reviewing “Riding the Rap” for The New York Times Book Review in 1995, Martin Amis cited Mr. Leonard’s “gifts — of ear and eye, of timing and phrasing — that even the most indolent and snobbish masters of the mainstream must vigorously covet.” As the American chapter of PEN noted, when honoring Mr. Leonard with a lifetime achievement award in 2009, his books “are not only classics of the crime genre, but some of the best writing of the last half-century.” Technically, he never aimed to write the kind of “High Plains” westerns popularized in Hollywood movies, but grittier mysteries set in the border states of Arizona and New Mexico and featuring Apaches and Mexicans. “I was always dying to write those border voices,” he said, and eventually he began putting characters like Cundo Rey (“La Brava”) and Nestor Soto (“Stick”) in his crime novels. As Martin Amis noted, Mr. Leonard had an ear, and his main objective was to let his chatty characters have their say. “I always write from a character’s point of view,” he said, adding that he couldn’t even begin writing a scene until he had decided which character would be assigned the narrative voice. More often than not, that character would be among his rogues’ gallery of brutal killers, thuggish gangsters and slick con artists. Mr. Leonard called them “my guys” and delighted in their affable amorality and pragmatic professionalism. He took special pride in the technical skills these working-class gun dealers, loan sharks, bookies, thieves, grifters and mob enforcers brought to their trade. They may be criminals, but they know their business and they honor their work ethic. MORE
RELATED: Good guys and bad guys both, the players in Mr. Leonard’s books are always energized by the big, bad cities where they operate. There’s a wicked backbeat in his urban novels that pulses through cities like Miami, Detroit, New Orleans and San Juan. Atlantic City is its own sinister character in “Glitz,” preying on the tour buses that lumber into the city like blind cattle. “Two thousand a day came into the city, dropped the suckers off for six hours to lose their paychecks, their Social Security in the slots and haul them back up to Elizabeth, Newark, Jersey City, Philly, Allentown. Bring some more loads back tomorrow — like the Jews in the boxcars, only they kept these folks alive with bright lights and loud music and jackpot payoffs that sounded like fire alarms.” MORE
RELATED: Leonard will also be well-remembered for his 10 Rules of Writing. :
1. Never open a book with weather.
2. Avoid prologues.
3. Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.
4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said.”
5. Keep your exclamation points under control.
6. Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”
7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.
10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip. MORE