Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Elmore Leonard's cool, spare dialogue

Be Cool, a sequel to Get Shorty, seems not often to be mentioned among top-flight Elmore Leonard novels, but this reader liked it just fine. I enjoyed the author's apparent comfort amid the rock-and-roll world, and I especially liked the spare prose.

I'd tried just once before to read a Leonard novel, and I marveled at a lengthy scene built entirely of dialogue: no descriptions, no tags or attributions, no reactions. It was a virtuoso piece of writing, but a bit wearying to read. Be Cool contains similar, if shorter, scenes, and for me, they worked. My favorite example:
"Hi, I'm Tiffany? I love your movies. Tommy said I could be in the one you're gonna do about him? Only I guess you won't do it now."
Odds are you've read similar snippets of dialogue in which a character, usually female, ends her statements with a rising intonation that makes questions of them. Usually the author will have the narrator remark on this. But Leonard, avoiding any such commentary, let me hear that voice. And I hear it vividly.

I can also well understand why Detectives Beyond Borders favorites Declan Burke and John McFetridge revere Leonard. Like their novels, this one is less a straightforward crime story than a kind of adventure or odyssey along which the protagonist or protagonists encounter and maybe commit crimes. I'm betting they've both read this book.
© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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20 Comments:

Blogger R. T. Davis said...

Elmore Leonard is always full of surprises. If you really want to be surprised by him, check out his early westerns (beginning with THE BOUNTY HUNTERS). The settings, characters, and plots may not sound like his mystery novels, you will nevertheless recognize the style and themes.
All the best from a fellow mystery fanatic.
R. T. Davis
Books and Notes
http://selectedbooks.blogspot.com

March 03, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I'd like to do that. Though this was my first Elmore Leonard novel, I had read "3:10 to Yuma" in a crime-fiction anthology and found it superb. And yes, the editors did include the story in a crime collection even though it's a Western.

March 03, 2009  
Blogger N/A said...

"Be Cool," in my view, was not one of Leonard's best novels, but any Leonard is better than no Leonard.

"Be Cool" was a sequel to "Get Shorty," which I believe is a much better crime novel. I read that Leonard based the short, oddball actor in the novel on Dustin Hoffman.

Leonard met with Hoffman to discuss making a film of Leonard's book "LaBrava," which was a very good crime thriller. Hoffman drove Leonard crazy with meetings and his odd take on the film project, and it never came off. (I thought Al Pacino would have been pefect for "LaBrava").

I also thought Danny Devito, who is hardly a method actor, was dead wrong for the role of the Hoffman-inspired actor in "Get Shorty." Hoffman himself, of course, would have been perfect.

I've read and enjoyed all of Leonard's books, but as I've mentioned here before, I love his early crime novels the best. "City Primeval: High Noon in Detroit" and "52 Pick-Up" are two of my favorites. "52 Pick-Up" was made into a very good film with Roy Schieder.

Paul Davis
daviswrite@aol.com

March 03, 2009  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

I heard the Hoffman story too, but I thought Pacino was the one who was called "Shorty" in Hollywood so I dont know about that.

I remember seeing a Carrie Fischer interview where she said that Paul Simon didnt mind being called "Shorty" but once when someone referred to him as "baldy" he was furious.

March 03, 2009  
Blogger Brian O'Rourke said...

SPOILERS

Maybe I'm misremembering or confusing the movies with the books, but aren't the protagonists in Be Cool saved at the end by the antagonist's conflicted henchman...which is the same exact way Get Shorty resolves itself?

I don't know if Leonard was being post-modern and trying to poke fun of the redundancy of most sequels when he did this, but I felt a little cheated by the ending in Be Cool. Still, I love Leonard's style and dialogue though.

March 03, 2009  
Blogger Dana King said...

I'm a confirmed Leonard aficionado (The three writers in my Pantheon are Chandler, McBain, and Leonard), who just discovered his Western stories a couple of years ago. Much as I love his contemporary crime stories, I don't think he ever wrote a better book than HOMBRE. Well worth anyone's time.

March 03, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Paul, I'll have to go back and try "Get Shorty" again. I think I'd enjoy it more now, having read "Be Cool." I had not heard the Dustin Hoffman story, and I did see and enjoy "52 Pick-Up." I think I have lots of good reading ahead.

March 03, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Brian, I read a review today that praised Leonard for so thoroughly duplicating the "Get Shorty" plot line in "Be Cool" and pulling it off.

You may be right about his getting modern. "Be Cool" is full of references to Chili Palmer's movie and not-so-good sequel, both of which had "Get" in the title. Toward the middle of the book, characters start praising the sequel, so yes, I'd say Leonard was having some self-referential fun.

March 03, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

OK, I'll have to read "Get Shorty" now and see if I can make any further guesses about who the real Shorty is.

March 03, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Dana, I mentioned how much I liked "3:10 to Yuma." That story has made me curious about Westerns as well as about Elmore Leonard. Am I imagining things, or have there been collections of his Western stories?

March 03, 2009  
Blogger R. T. Davis said...

There are at least four collections of the western stories. (1) The Tonto Woman and Other Western Stories; (2)(3)(4) Elmore Leonard's Western Roundup #1, #2, and #3. I also think that there are at least 8 western novels. Enjoy.

March 03, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Many thanks for some anticipated good reading. I'll work up some plausible connection between E. Leonard's Westerns and the ostensible subject of this blog, and then I'll be ready to go.

March 03, 2009  
Blogger N/A said...

Peter,

Another Leonard novel that might interest you due to the local angle is "Glitz."

Part of the thriller takes place in Atlantic City, and in addition to the obligatory creepy, lowlife criminal, Teddy Magyk, who calls himself "Mr. Magic," Leonard offers up South Philly mob guys.

I was born, raised and still live in South Philly. I ran with a street corner gang with these guys as a tenager, and later I hung out in the bars and clubs with them. Leonard gets it mostly right.

He said he picked up his mob dialogue from the 1983 Pennsylvania Crime Commision.

I recall a Newsweek piece that praised Leonard for doing his reasearch well. In the novel, Vincent Mora, a Miami cop on the hunt in Atlantic City, bribes a hotel clerk with a cheesesteak.

Glitz is a Good crime thriller. They made a disappointing TV movie out of the book.

Paul Davis
daviswrite@aol.com

March 04, 2009  
Blogger shagen said...

Elmore Leonard has an excellent researcher who began researching for Mr. Leonard on the Glitz project if I'm not mistaken.
Mr. Gregg Sutter also compiled The Complete Western Stories of Elmore Leonard, which has all of Mr. Leonard's western shorts, not just a select few in separate compilations as noted above.

There's also an excellent discussion on Get Shorty at The Dutch Forum (www.elmoreleonard.com). Sorry, no link to the actual discussion.

March 04, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Paul, I hadn't known about the Philadelphia background to "Glitz." I am impressed that Leonard was able to get right characters and a setting not his own. My respect for the man grows.

March 04, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks, shagen. Sounds as if Leonard knows where to go for his research and what to do with it. And thanks for the pointers re Westerns and "Get Shorty." I may avoid the latter discussion until I've read the book.

March 04, 2009  
Blogger Bowly said...

Given his description as a star-power action star and his attractive ex-wife actress (Mimi Rogers at the time), I always pictured "Shorty" as Tom Cruise.

March 13, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks. Now maybe I'll read the book and make a guessing game of it. Adrian McKinty, who commented above, would no doubt get a kick out of the suggestion that the character is modelled on Cruise.

March 13, 2009  
Blogger shagen said...

Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

" I may avoid the latter discussion until I've read the book. "
March 04, 2009

Seventeen months later, have you read the book?

Wait a little longer and you can read Mr. Leonard's latest, called Djibouti - on documentary film making, sweet thing journalists, huge body guard/companions, and pirates a course.

You can bet I'm looking forward to this one with exasperatedly heightened anticipation. Other words, can't effing wait any longer, I'm dying here for some new Elmore Leonard. Countdown T minus 22 days, T minus 21 . . .

September 25, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I confess to not remembering much beyond what I wrote in this early comment. As I said then, if a novel not cited among his best has spare prose this good, his top-flight books must be really something.

That's a tantalizing blurb for his latest, by the way. Thanks.

September 25, 2010  

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