Robert Pinsky, reviewing for The New York Times in May 2009, said Elmore Leonard’s Road Dogs “is about the varying degrees of truth and baloney in human relationships. Sometimes the truth or the baloney is lethal. Droll and exciting, enriched by the self-aware, what-the-hell-why-not insouciance of a master now in his mid-80s, Road Dogs presents interesting questions: Can a grown person change? Specifically, can a man abandon expertise that wins him respect but makes a mess of his life? Can anybody trust anybody? Is love ever true? Is friendship ever real? Or, leaving aside love and friendship, does loyalty exist? We road dogs—trotting along companionably on our way to sniff and woof and boogie-woogie and perhaps knock over an occasional trash barrel together—are we reliable?”
I’ve maintained a list of every book I’ve read since 1973, starting when I realized I was reading an embarrassing amount of pop fiction at the expense of more worthy literary efforts. Not that Robert Ludlum is bad, but it’s genre writing.
Finishing my seventh Elmore Leonard opus I realized it was time to get back to Drew Gilpin Faust’s This Republic of Suffering or David Liss’s Conspiracy of Paper. Then I had my epiphany: Elmore Leonard was an extremely good writer.
You know Leonard from the films Get Shorty, Stick, Mr. Majestyk, Jackie Brown and 27 others. You just haven’t read him.
The Christian Science Monitor’s James Kaufman (who teaches at the U. of Iowa) wrote in 1983, “It’s taken awhile for people to catch onto Leonard, though Stick finally brought him the scrutiny of the critical establishment…. But like more overnight successes, Leonard had been writing…since 1953.” Newgate Callendar, writing in The New York Times Book Review, stated, “When [Leonard’s] 52 Pickup appeared in 1974, it had some critics talking in terms of Raymond Chandler and Ross Macdonald…. But it is really wrong to talk of this writer in terms of Chandler and Macdonald. He has little in common with those two. They are ‘clean’ writers; there is no profanity to speak of in Chandler, and Macdonald has never been an exponent of the verismo school of speech. Leonard is.”
Leonard’s characters are for the most part, good, decent people, but ones who might challenge you to arm wrestle. The writing is spare and lacking in simile or metaphor. His protagonists have interior thoughts and existential questions. What remains when the reader puts down a Leonard work are characters drawn in clean, sharp lines. He is Hemingway, unexpurgated and sitting in a bar or police squad room.
Then you may find Road Dogs and Leonard’s 40 other novels are addictive.
Road Dogs, by Elmore Leonard, William Morrow, ISBN 0061733148
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