Thursday, November 01, 2007

Top of the Stack

It’s been a busy week of celebrating Elmore Leonard here at The Rap Sheet. We announced the winner of our Leonard book giveaway contest, published an abbreviated interview with the octogenarian wordsmith, and of course, polled our readers on the subject of their favorite Leonard crime novels. The results of that survey are now available.

With 254 votes counted, the big winner (earning 25 nominations) is Killshot, Leonard’s 1989 suspenser about a pair of innocent bystanders to a crime, who discover that they’re no safer in the federal Witness Protection Program than they were before. When it came out, Publishers Weekly said of Killshot:
Crime fiction doesn’t get any better than Leonard’s new thriller ... When Carmen Colson and her ironworker husband, Wayne, stumble onto an extortion scheme run by Armand Degas, half Ojibway Indian, half French Canadian hit man, and his temporary partner Richie Nix, a talkative sociopath, the two killers set out to eliminate them, hiding out with Nix’s girlfriend Donna, a former prison guard who collects stuffed animals and believes that Elvis is alive. In detailing the killers’ relentless pursuit of the terrified couple, Leonard builds suspense with a deft, master hand, inducing an instant--and sustained--response of sweating hands and a racing heart. Even the most jaded reader will be swept along on the roller coaster of impending violence punctuated by heart-stopping crises. As always, Leonard writes with a natural ear for offbeat speech and a terrific sense of locale, moving the action from Toronto to Detroit and into Michigan and Ohio, telling the story almost totally through the thoughts and dialogue of the characters. In the Colsons, Leonard presents a more mature and realistic portrayal of a relationship than he has in the past, and he stirs up an uncomfortable fondness for the cruel but mellowing hit man Degas, all the while drawing the reader deeply into these ordinary lives. A bravura performance.
It will be interesting to see what kind of job Hollywood does in translating Killshot into movie form, which it is doing with Diane Lane and Mickey Rourke in starring roles. That feature is due out in 2008, but there’s already a trailer you can watch here.

A bit behind Killshot, our poll shows a tie between LaBrava (1983) and Get Shorty (1990), both of which received 17 votes. LaBrava, which in 1984 won an Edgar Award for Best Novel, numbered among my choices for January Magazine’s long-ago “Essential Mystery Library.” Of that book, I wrote: “It’s the dark-edged tale of a former Secret Service agent whose new start as a portrait photographer is endangered by his encounter with a fading but still sexy actress. She sucks him down into a world of redneck cops, deadly Cuban gunmen, and bizarre, big-bucks scamming.” My enthusiastic endorsement of LaBrava was seconded by screenwriter-novelist Nora Ephron, who, while reviewing a later Leonard novel for The New York Times Book Review, remarked: “[I]f you’re an Elmore Leonard fan what you probably want to know is, is it as good as ‘LaBrava.’ No, it’s not, but what is?”

What’s ironic about Ephron’s comment, at least as it relates to The Rap Sheet’s poll, is that it appeared in a critique of Get Shorty, the frequently funny account of a small-time Miami loan shark, whose pursuit of a hard-luck horror movie producer with bad casino debts and a scam artist who faked his own death, lands him in the flashy but insincere wilds of Hollywood. (John Travolta starred in the 1995 film version of that yarn.) There’s still further irony in the match-up between LaBrava and Get Shorty, because as Mark Reiter, co-author of The Enlightened Bracketologist: The Final Four of Everything, told Times book critic Dwight Garner earlier this year, “Leonard wrote ‘Get Shorty’ to get back at Dustin Hoffman for torturing him during the writing of the ‘LaBrava’ screenplay.”

Eight other crime titles earned 10 or more votes in our survey of Leonard favorites: Swag (16), Fifty-two Pickup (15), Out of Sight (14), Maximum Bob (13), Rum Punch (12), Unknown Man No. 89 (11), and--with 10 nominations apiece--Glitz and The Hot Kid.

The full results of this poll can be found in two parts, here and here.

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