Elmore Leonard's Riding the Rap offers the following:
“`I always wonder what that would be like, two guys facing each other with guns.
“`Like in the movies,’ Louis said.”and more. And it would be a shame if readers didn't get the point after Leonard labored so hard to make sure that they do.
*“But the man didn’t drop like in the movies when getting hit over the head knocks the person out…”
*“He had never seen it done in the movies this close.”
*“Louis raised the Browning, cupped his left hand beneath the grip the way they did in the movies and fired.”
*“Louis said, `We like in the movies, huh? The two hombres facing each other out in the street.’”
The contrast with Riding the Rap's predecessor is instructive. Pronto, published three years earlier, in 1992, evokes the feeling of Westerns without, however, hitting the reader over the head. Leonard trusted the reader to make the connection, and I was so thrilled to have done so that I went out and bought a book of Leonard's Western stories. After the first reference in Riding the Rap, on the other hand, I wanted him to shut up already, and the references just kept on coming.
I've never written a novel and I can't imagine what it's like to do so, but I'd guess that spinning out a narrative hundreds of pages long requires an author to come up with a few ideas, then develop them. In Riding the Rap, Leonard doesn't develop his ideas, he flogs them. That some of the ideas are good mitigated my frustration only slightly.
One more example: Riding the Rap brings the protagonist, U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens, into contact with a young woman who claims to be a psychic. Leonard has the wonderful idea of having Givens begin to talk like a psychic himself in his exchanges with the woman. Once I got the excellent joke, I wondered what Leonard would do with it. But he does nothing except repeat it periodically throughout the rest of the novel.
What kinds of self-reference, in-jokes, and undeveloped ideas drive you nuts in crime novels?
© Peter Rozovsky 2012