Elmore Leonard died today…and just about every crime writer in America owes some debt to him in their writing. I’m one of them.
The wonderful thing about Leonard’s writing is how unobtrusive it is…it gets out of the way and puts you right there with the characters. And oh, what great characters they are, each one every bit as rich and complex as those in “literary fiction,” emerging through action and dialogue rather than belabored, self-conscious prose. He knew the power of simplicity and humor to convey character, ethical issues, and the often contradictory impulses that shape what we do. His characters are never simply good or bad. Even the most vicious sociopath in one of his stories can be surprisingly likable, gentle and polite in certain situations. His cops and marshals were often more bloodthirsty and lawless than the criminals they pursued. I return to his books not just for the pleasure of a great story well told, but to learn how to say more with less (something I’ve failed to do here) and to use humor to reveal character.