Sunday, May 29, 2011

A hit and myth by Elmore Leonard

My recent reading of Daniel Woodrell's Bayou Trilogy got me thinking of other regions of the United States that are foreign to me. And that led me to Elmore Leonard's 2005 novel The Hot Kid, a crime story that reads like a Western and spans an intermediate era between the two.

The good guys are federal agents and the bad guys bank robbers, but the hero in particular gets a mythlike origin story and accompanying legend more reminiscent of the lawmen of America's storied Western past. That Leonard updates that past with realistic sexual and ethnic detail is part of the book's fun.

Leonard began his career writing Westerns before becoming famous as a crime writer. His melding of the two in this book got me reflecting on the common roots of those two great genres of American popular writing.
***
More than the previous Leonard I'd read, The Hot Kid made me understand what younger crime writers mean when they say they love his work. The rhythm of the man's sentences reminds me of John McFetridge, an avowed Elmore Leonard admirer, and also of Declan Burke, another Detectives Beyond Borders friend whose name often calls forth mentions of Leonard.
***
I'm always on the lookout for appearances of my profession in crime novels. There's a nice one here about a reporter who wants to write about the Ku Klux Klan's hatred of Italians and Catholics but whose editor has other ideas:
"Tony wrote a story about the happy Fassino family's popular macaroni factory. Another one about a social club, the Christopher Columbus Society and its twenty-five piece band that at festivals and on the Fourth of July.

"The editor said, `I think you're getting the hang of it. Now write one about the tendency of your people to overindulge in Choctaw beer and homemade wine.'

"That did it. Tony Antonelli quit ... "
© Peter Rozovsky 2011

Labels: , , , ,

14 Comments:

Blogger seana said...

So you're going to just read whatever crime story you want to read, and then figure out what border you've crossed in retrospect, is that it?

It's true that you never said what kind of borders they would be. State lines are pretty good ones, especially when you're talking about crime.

May 29, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, this blog has so insinuated itself into my thinking that I do sometimes indulge in a bit of semantic gymnastics to fit a book in under its rubric. Or maybe it's just that the blog's name, coined to reflect one set of interests, is rich enough to suggest other possibilities.

In this case, and in Woodrell's, I realized that the Louisiana Bayou country, Oklahoma, and Kansas City were as unfamiliar to me as most foreign settings and held similar interest. Leonard's crossing the crime-Western divide is a rich bonus.

May 29, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

Not knockin' the idea, just commenting...

May 29, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

This one started out as a bit of a stretch but turned out more apt than I thought. It provoked some thought, at least on my part.

May 29, 2011  
Anonymous Linkmeister said...

Time can be a border too.

May 29, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The past is a foreign country!

May 29, 2011  
Blogger Michael Malone said...

Violent crime could be another border?

That would give you carte blanche really.

May 29, 2011  
Blogger John McFetridge said...

Peter, you could connect this with Elmore Leonard's Up In Honey's Room which rakes place in 1944 and includes a German character who escapes from a POW camp in Ontario and makes his way to Detroit.

Or Killshot that opens in the Silver Dollar hotel on Spadina in Toronto.

Espeially now that it's becoming tougher to cross this border, too.

May 29, 2011  
Anonymous May said...

I agree with Peter. The United States is vast, and different regions can really qualify as being a different country. I remember reading an NYTimes op-ed piece recently about a native new yorker who had lived more than 10 years in the MidWest (only to be told she was a recent implant) who still could not get over the ways in which her thinking was, at times, fundamentally different than those of her neighbors. And this is the supposedly colorless, bland midwest, not Cajun country (Bayou Trilogy), or some ethnic community (Henry Chang's Chinatown)...

May 29, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

May, speaking of ethnic communities, I was tempted to refer in one of my recent posts to "regional" novels, but I refrained from doing so. What's regional, and what's mainstream?

May 29, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

John, Up in Honey's Room also has Carlos "Carl" Webster as its protagonist, doesn't it?

OBL is dead now. How come it's still tough to cress that border?

May 29, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Michael, that would be going to fat, unless the border crossed was that of good taste. I can write about anything I want to, but I won't bother pretending that some of them cross borders ... that photograph of the laughing gulls, for instance.

May 29, 2011  
Blogger John McFetridge said...

Yes, Peter, that's the one, Carl Webster goes to Detroit to track down an escapee from a POW camp in Oklahoma. A very different look at the war years.

May 29, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I didn't know that about the book. One does not want to overburden crime books with significance, but if the protagonist moves from Carlos to Carl, into the era of the FBI getting its name (there may be a little slip-up in this respect in The Hot Kid), from Prohibition into the war, from Westerns to war stories, people are going to start saying things like "epic cycle of mid-century America."

May 29, 2011  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home