"So, when you say it’s character-driven," the interviewer [Martin Amis] asked, "do you mean you’re thinking, `How would this character see this scene?' Because you’re usually third-person. You don’t directly speak through your characters, but there is a kind of third-person that is a first-person in disguise."
Leonard replied that: "it takes on somewhat of a first-person sound, but not really. Because I like third-person. I don’t want to be stuck with one character’s viewpoint, because there are too many viewpoints."
Here's an example from Riding the Rap (1995), the second book to feature U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens:
"He was a rangy kid with the build of a college athlete, bigger than this marshal in his blue suit and cowboy boots—the marshal calm though, not appearing to be the least apprehensive. He said the West Palm strike team was shorthanded at the moment, the reason he was alone, but believed he would manage."That's a decent bit of description — until it becomes something more in the highlighted portion. Leonard beautifully conjures the flavor of how Raylan Givens would speak and think but without dialogue. That has to be what Martin Amis meant by first-person in disguise. It also achieves the high comic goal of not just saying funny things (that is, cracking a joke), but saying things funny.
That, I think, is a big part what of what readers mean when they talk about Leonard's humor. His books may not about in slapstick, laugh-out-loud moments, but they sure do say lots of things funny. [Disclosure: I'd read just three Leonard novels and one short story before Riding the Rap: Be Cool, The Hot Kid, Pronto (the first Raylan Givens novel), and "3:10 to Yuma," so I don't know how pertinent this post is to his work as a whole. Comment from Leonardians is welcome.]
Who else has Elmore Leonard influenced? (Here's a post from the paleolithic age of Detectives Beyond Borders that asked "Who is the most influential crime writer ever?")
© Peter Rozovsky 2012