Elmore Leonard, RIP.

Sorry no new post today; I was out last night and we had some big home-improvement projects going, and work and blah blah blah. But this morning I’m hearing that Elmore Leonard died, and it seems appropriate to have a moment of silence and think about what one might say about that.

For now, though, I think this old entry should suffice. He really was the very, very best.

Posted at 9:46 am in Detroit life |

45 responses to “Elmore Leonard, RIP.”

  1. brian stouder said on August 20, 2013 at 9:56 am

    A great old entry – especially this:

    I’m convinced this is what separates readers from writers. Readers read a book once and put it on the shelf. Writers read and re-read, and re-re-read.

    Mark me down as a reader and not a writer!

    Although I did re-read a sentence 5 times last night, and I still think I’ve missed the author’s intent. (pull my finger, and I’ll copy it here this evening)

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  2. Dorothy said on August 20, 2013 at 10:11 am

    I’m so sorry, Nancy. I know you held him in the highest esteem. I thought of you when I heard Mr. Leonard died.

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  3. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on August 20, 2013 at 10:28 am


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  4. Deborah said on August 20, 2013 at 10:34 am

    I’m ashamed to say I have never read an Elmore Leonard novel. But I will now. I’ll take one with me to Beaver Brook, I have a long day of travel Saturday. Which book do you suggest I start with?

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    • nancy said on August 20, 2013 at 10:36 am

      “Rum Punch,” “Tishomingo Blues,” “City Primeval,” “The Hot Kid,” etc.

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  5. Judybusy said on August 20, 2013 at 10:40 am

    Maggie Jochild posted his passing on Facebook, and I came her right away to offer my condolences. Like Deborah, I’ve never read one of his books. Deborah, I had been thinking your Beaver Brook experience was coming up! Have a wonderful, interesting time.

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  6. beb said on August 20, 2013 at 11:01 am

    I’m sadden to hear of Leonard’s passing. I had heard that he had had a stroke recently so I’m not altogether surprised but still it is sad news.

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  7. Chris in Iowa said on August 20, 2013 at 11:13 am

    Thank you, Jeff, for posting the Washington Post obit. It says a great deal about the importance of persistence and hard work.

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  8. brian stouder said on August 20, 2013 at 11:18 am

    Chris, I liked where the obit quoted his advice to writers to ‘leave out the stuff people will skip’

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  9. Julie Robinson said on August 20, 2013 at 11:27 am

    His first novel was rejected 84 times. What perseverance!

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  10. brian stouder said on August 20, 2013 at 11:45 am

    Speaking of serious news and black humor –


    If I understand this fairly terrifying article, the dual requirements of control and cleanup at the Fukishima nuclear power plant creates 400 tons (105,000 gallons) of radioactive water per day….which they must contain and deal with…and they have leaky tanks!

    The money quote, which Mr Leonard could probably have fun with, as it comes from the nuclear plant’s Public Relations flak – a guy named Ono(!!) : “”We have no choice but keep building tanks, or there is no place to store the contaminated water,” Ono said.

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  11. Maggie Jochild said on August 20, 2013 at 12:29 pm

    I first read an Elmore Leonard novel when Bill Clinton was President and named him as his favourite writer. I was instantly hooked, and began reading him as a writer does, not just for the fantastic stories but also trying to understand how he does it so well. His gift for characterization through elegantly pared-down colloquial dialogue is unparalleled, I think.

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  12. Dave said on August 20, 2013 at 12:31 pm

    I just heard of his passing a few minutes ago, when I linked back to the past, I see that I was one of the commenters and said what I need not say again, which was how I first learned of Elmore Leonard. Deborah, for some reason, I was personally fond of “Unknown Man Number 89”. However, I caution you, it’s been a couple of decades since I read it.

    I think I’ve read nearly all of his books, excluding most of the Westerns.

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  13. Dexter said on August 20, 2013 at 1:04 pm

    So sorry, nance, you have written many times of your fondness for Elmore Leonard, he had been sick a long time, and he had to go. It was more of a mild shock for me to realize Robert Plant has turned 65 years old. Whoa, I thought…and instantly realized I’m a moonrise or two from playing this song for myself.

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  14. Dave said on August 20, 2013 at 1:34 pm

    I thought this was funny, made me laugh out loud. My wife doesn’t see the humor in it. Maybe it’s me:

    Peter Leonard recalled a time when the family lived on Fairfax in Birmingham, and the author’s second wife, Joan, was up on the roof cleaning the gutters.

    “My brother Bill asked, ‘Why is Joan on the roof?’ Elmore said, ‘Because she can’t write books.’”


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  15. Prospero said on August 20, 2013 at 2:00 pm

    Here’s a different take on this Miranda guy that I agree with. I’ve had it with Greenwald’s self-aggrandizing and, even more, with the breathless descriptions of Miranda as Greenwald’s “life partner”. Somebody want to claim the Brit detention of this guy has anything to do with anybody being gay? Bullshit. The Brits are the most surveilled nation on the face of the earth since the London public transportation terrorist attacks. Not quite surprising. Miranda was transporting stolen national security documents. All of the outrage and righteous indignation about this episode seems misplaced to me, especially when Miranda’s sexual orientation is hauled into it, and more especially when people conflate it with US security apparatus that had nothing to do with it. If Americans want to get up in arms about something, how about the noxious stop and frisk bullshit in NYC, which is far more worrisome where the 4th Amendment is concerned than the NSA compiling lists of phone numbers that called other numbers (without the content of the calls). And it would do everyone well to pause for a moment and consider that all this shit started with Julian Assange, a stalker and rapist.

    Precept No. 1 in this mess: Not every publisher of stolen information is a “whistleblower”. Oh, and that poor debilitatingly nuerotic Bradley Manning? He’s not being tried under civilian rules of law, because he joined the army voluntarily. He signed on for another set of rules and he broke them, apparently without considering the consequences. Boo-hoo-hoo.

    My personal favorite Elmore Leonard novel is Pagan Babies, about a guy that flees mobsters and the IRS disguised as a priest and ends up in the middle of the Rwandan ethnic cleansing. Before he returns to the States this typical Leonardian hero of shady character, good heart and badly broken moral compass murders four Hutus in revenge of his Tutsi flock that was slaughtered. This caused some consternation on the part of people that believe the Hutus were in the right, and an associated critical backlash. I have to believe that such nitwits long for the days of a President that called Guatamalan military thugs, Salvadoran death squads, and bastards like Pinochet freedom fighters. Anyway, the book has a huge cast, sizzling dialogue, and the exquisite moral ambiguity Mr. Leonard excelled at creating. When Fr. Terry gets back to the States, he meets a woman who is more than his match, and a wild ride is on.

    The Driftglass Blog has an excellent bit on Mr. Leonard’s http://driftglass.blogspot.com/2013/08/rip-elmore-leonard.html, including a bonus video clip from Jackie Brown with two brilliant lines from Samuel L. Jackson.

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  16. MichaelG said on August 20, 2013 at 2:29 pm

    Put me down with Dave as having read almost all of Leonard’s crime novels over the years but none of the westerns. I’ve read everything I could find at the library. I guess I’ll start looking elsewhere and also read the westerns. He was a great writer as is James Lee Burke who is quoted in the obit. Burke isn’t getting any younger either.

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  17. Sherri said on August 20, 2013 at 2:38 pm

    Pros, do you feel the same way about Daniel Ellsberg? Just curious, not trying to provoke an argument.

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  18. Prospero said on August 20, 2013 at 3:05 pm

    Sherri, Hell no. That was an entirely different set of circumstances. The Nixon administration was behaving in an evil manner and the War in Vietnam dwarfs anybody’s concerns about the NSA collecting phone numbers. I was disappointed when Ellsberg defended Snowden, because I’m sure he can see the difference between his case and Snowden’s. I also don’t see Greenwald as any sort of Jack Anderson figure in all of this either. Greenwald is involved in self-aggrandizement that is the equal of Snowden’s or Assange’s. It all strikes me as narcisistic and whiny. When I’ve broken the law in the interest of protest of government behavior, I’ve taken the consequences, whether it was bruises and abrasions or jail in Cambridge or Ann Arbor. It doesn’t mean much when you whine about the consequences of your actions, and it doesn’t make one a martyr. It’s like the story of Emerson aghast visiting Thoreau in jail for not paying taxes, on principle. Emerson asked My God Henry, what are you doing in there? Thoreau answered The question my dear Ralph is what are you doing out there

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  19. brian stouder said on August 20, 2013 at 3:13 pm

    Well Sherri – there’s one thing I’ve been meaning to provoke Prospero with, so if he wants to be full of vinegar, then I’ll invite a deluge over the subject of his oft-stated joke about voting.

    A favorite phrase of Prose is constructed thusly: “If a voter is so fracking stupid as to ____________(fill in the blank), then he shouldn’t be allowed to vote!”

    And I’d just as soon keep life simple, and maintain prima facie opposition with everyone who proposes voter disenfranchisement, period. Let’s leave the “low information voter” meme in the rightwing dungheap where it was hatched

    PS – and I’d suggest that history will adjudge how similar (or dissimilar) Ellsburg is with Snowden. I don’t like Snowden, and I think his act required much less courage than Ellsburg’s did…but the macro picture (apart from whether we like this guy or that one) are parallel

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  20. mark said on August 20, 2013 at 3:15 pm

    So the difference is Nixon bad, Obama good.

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  21. brian stouder said on August 20, 2013 at 3:23 pm

    Mark – I’d be hard-pressed to construct a truer statement; but I see your point and agree with it.

    Objectivity is a better thing than subjectivity

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  22. Brandon said on August 20, 2013 at 3:29 pm

    Back to Elmore Leonard. I’ve never read his books but I’ve seen the movie adaptation of Get Shorty and its sequel Be Cool (I don’t know if that was originally an Elmore book.) It turns out Striptease was based on Carl Hiassen’s novel. Wild Things, which is better than you think, is not based on a book by Elmore or Hiassen, interestingly.

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  23. LAMary said on August 20, 2013 at 4:03 pm

    Off topic.
    Dick Van Dyke was cruising along the freeway and his Jaguar caught fire. He was sitting in the burning car dialing 911 when someone pulled over and got him out of the car. The consensus in my house is this was a very delayed reprisal by the British for Dick Van Dyke’s horrible Cockney accent in Mary Poppins. Gor, wot a soit.

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  24. Dorothy said on August 20, 2013 at 4:07 pm

    As my husband would say, Mary “That’s cold.” But probably very close to the truth!

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  25. Jolene said on August 20, 2013 at 4:12 pm

    John Kelly, one of my favorite Posties, linked to Leonard’s rules on writing (http://www.theguardian.com/p/2f7ce/tw) and, even better, to The Onion’s obit, in which those rules are gloriously violated (http://www.theonion.com/articles/elmore-leonard-modern-prose-master-noted-for-his-t,33559/). Enjoy.

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  26. Prospero said on August 20, 2013 at 4:14 pm

    Mark@20: Childish and petulant. The folks doing the most handwringing over the NSA are people that willingly gave up the privacy they lament now in the interest of safety, years before Obama was elected. I believe I said the circumstances of the two instances were vastly different, without any mention of the players. Seems to me I was quite clear. There is no reasonable comparison between what Ellsberg did and what Snowden has done. That comparison is particularly odious. I don’t like what the NSA is doing any more than anyone else does, but comparing it to getting 750 to 1000 American soldiers killed every week for no reason, and considering it’s been going on since at least 2005, seems patently ridiculous to me. Pardon me, but I see no equivalence whatsoever. And I’m dead sure, having lived through the whole thing back then that Daniel Ellsberg made no attempt to turn himself into the ringmaster of an international circus. Ellsberg may have felt he needed therapy, but his problem was not narcisistic personality disorder, as affects both Snowden and Assange.

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  27. Prospero said on August 20, 2013 at 4:19 pm

    I’m not saying anything more about that rutabaga around Snowden.

    I’d say fans of Elmore Leonard crime fiction should make a point of reading Friends of Eddie Coyle or any of the Kennedy for the defense books by George V. Higgins, the late Boston Globe columnist and crime fiction master. You’ll be glad you did. The movie adaptation with Robert Mitchum is also outstanding.

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  28. alex said on August 20, 2013 at 4:25 pm

    So the difference is Nixon bad, Obama good.

    The difference is that Nixon personally directed the Watergate scandal and personally directed the cover-up. No one but the cray-cray are suggesting that Obama has any such direct involvement in the NSA’s activities. It’s not even clear whether the NSA’s activities are illegal.

    Benghazi, Benghazi to you too.

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  29. brian stouder said on August 20, 2013 at 4:36 pm

    Yes – the president should have micromanaged everything that happened in Benghazi and shirked his duties…but on the other hand look how he so self-importantly got his hands onto the Special Operations Command when bin Laden got his head on the end of our pike…IF we accept that the president wasn’t photo-shopped into those Situation Room pictures!

    I think the Obama-hating right has become a historical dungpile. As someone pointed out hereabouts, they shrieked “Birth certificate!! Birth Certificate!!” about the president*, and the silence regarding the “Oh (No!)Canadian usurper in the Senate from Texas, Ted Cruz, is fairly deafening

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  30. brian stouder said on August 20, 2013 at 4:39 pm

    *and indeed, as none of the Birthers questioned that the president’s mother was native born, even if Hawaii hadn’t been a state in 1961, President Obama would be just as ‘native born’ as Abe Lincoln, by the Constitution’s definition.

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  31. Basset said on August 20, 2013 at 5:07 pm

    Deborah, “Killshot” was a good start for both me and Mrs. B.

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  32. Sherri said on August 20, 2013 at 5:13 pm

    The folks doing the most handwringing over the NSA are people that willingly gave up the privacy they lament now in the interest of safety, years before Obama was elected.

    Pros, this is simply not true. The ACLU and the EFF, just to name two organizations, have been fighting the privacy battle for years, and they’re on the front-lines challenging the NSA. I’m one of the people who is very unhappy about NSA overreach, and I only grudgingly give up privacy for safety when I have to. I don’t like living in a surveillance state, because I believe it will always, inevitably, be abused.

    And it’s not just metadata; you haven’t been keeping up with the story. They’re collecting more than just metadata.

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  33. Deborah said on August 20, 2013 at 5:46 pm

    That’s funny Maggie Jochild, I too took reading advice from Bill Clinton. He was asked what he was reading one time while he was pres and he said a Tony Hillerman novel. At the time I had never heard of Hillerman but I went right out and got one of his books. I’ve read them all since. Not the greatest writing but I loved the characters, Leaphorn and Chee and they take place in my favorite part of the world.

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  34. Sherri said on August 20, 2013 at 6:08 pm

    The creators of Lavabit and SilentCircle, who shut down their services rather than submit to NSA eavesdropping, are also not people who willingly gave up privacy for security. This whole thing is bigger than the NSA just sucking up metadata. This is about the whole infrastructure. It’s about FISA and National Security Letters and what the government is doing without warrants. Snowden opened a door on some ugly truths.

    Governments have always lied to us; that’s not new. What is troubling to me is the degree to which our government has been willing to ignore what’s supposed to be the foundational truth of our system: government of the people, by the people, for the people. That can’t happen if the government operates in secrecy, ignoring the Bill of Rights, making a US citizen a non-person by declaring them an enemy combatant, or targeting them in a drone strike.

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  35. Jolene said on August 20, 2013 at 6:08 pm

    Bill Clinton also liked Walter Mosley’s books, though I can’t say which ones. Something else for your reading list, Deborah.

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  36. David C. said on August 20, 2013 at 6:36 pm

    Elmore Leonard’s 10 rules for 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.

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  37. Brandon said on August 20, 2013 at 6:54 pm

    Good rules. But when you break them, break them well. Look at Lois-Ann Yamanaka, who uses pidgin wonderfully in her books, especially Wild Meat and the Bully Burgers.

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  38. Deborah said on August 20, 2013 at 7:35 pm

    An illustrator friend of mine posted a really nice drawing of Elmore Leonard today. He has been doing a series of portraits of literary figures. He’s had drawings in the NYT book review. He’s amazingly good and a super nice guy: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10200711570730965

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  39. Prospero said on August 20, 2013 at 8:07 pm

    Brandon@37: Mark Twain was a pretty fair hand at filling pages with regional dialect, and I’d say he was a pretty successful artist, wrote the Great American Novel and all.

    The best way to get into Walter Mosley, I think, is to read the Easy Rawlin’s books. If Raymond “Mouse” Alexander doesn’t grab you, check your pulse. An astounding literary creation. Best of them (though I haven’t read Little Green yet) is Devil in a Blue Dress, a rare thing. A superb LA book. The explication through story and character of racial and social politics in the middle of the 20th Century is worth 100 sociological treatises.Great complicated plot and astounding characterization. With the exception of Little Green, which I just got from Amazon, I believe I’ve read all of Mosley’s books, including his rare ventures into science fiction and political commentary. For the latter, the brief Twelve Steps Toward Political Revelation is well worth reading, and more astute than anything in any newspaper column or political blog.

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  40. Suzanne said on August 20, 2013 at 9:00 pm

    I’m not a writer, but I must have a writer’s soul as I believe any book worth reading once is worth reading again. The really good ones, again and again. You gain a new perspective each time.

    I’ll have to put Elmore Leonard down on my list of writers to delve into. I’ve never read any of his books.

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  41. coozledad said on August 20, 2013 at 10:18 pm

    Alex:Benghazi, Benghazi to you too.
    A thing of fucking beauty. But don’t forget Mark’s consistent yammering about Freedom, freedom which means being able to cast one’s vote exclusively in the presence of other whites.

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  42. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on August 20, 2013 at 10:36 pm


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  43. Dexter said on August 20, 2013 at 11:53 pm

    How much do you think Mike and Frank, The History Channel’s “Pickers”, will pay Dick Van Dyke for his toasted Jaguar automobile?


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  44. Brandon said on August 21, 2013 at 2:17 am

    Suzanne: Neither have I. So I’ll have to check them out sometime.

    Prospero: Twain was a giant. Lois-Ann Yamanaka lived in Hilo, my hometown. She’s one of the very few writers who employ pidgin in a natural way.

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