Sunday, 9 February 2014

Unknown Man No. 89 - Elmore Leonard


This dates from 1977, the beginning of one of several golden periods for the late Leonard.  It is, as usual, a caper novel featuring assorted grifters and lowlifes.  This being a relatively early novel, it is set in Detroit where Leonard did most of his growing-up.

It scarcely needs saying, but it reads like a dream.  The premise is flimsy, inconsequential, but who cares?  The Elmore Leonard experience is totally immersive and credible for exactly as long as it takes to finish reading.  On reflection, I don't find the key characters sufficiently beguiling.  Jack Ryan, process server, is a returnee from an early (and rare) Leonard failure, 1969's The Big Bounce.  His antagonist, Mr Perez, is a super-smooth dodgy businessman whose practice was probably sneered at back in 1977 but which in Twenty-First Century Britain is celebrated in BBC1's daytime dross Heir Hunters.  The lucky legatee Denise is winning enough in her way, but it is the secondary characters who really catch the imagination: superfly Virgil Royal and his hapless brother-in-law Tunafish; Mr Perez's downhome hitman Raymond Gidre.  Technically, this is a fault that relatively early Leonard often has, but somehow it never dulls the enjoyment.

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