Thursday, August 22, 2013

So Long, Dutch

Dell cover of The Law at Randado by Elmore Leonard

I had planned to write about something else today, but the death of Elmore Leonard has put me in a funk. Leonard has been a fixture on my bookshelf for decades now and I was beginning to think he'd outlive me. Leonard is the last of the great mid-century pulp writers to shuffle off this mortal coil. He follows other populist writers like John D. McDonald, Ed McBain, Ross MacDonald, and Donald Westlake in to the great hereafter. His legacy is arguably broader and more durable. The movies have assured that. Unlike his contemporaries, Leonard was as much a cinematic artist as he was a literary one. Dozens of movies are based on Leonard, some of which he wrote directly for the screen himself. Lately, I've been watching Justified, a series based on one of Leonard's short stories, and it's almost a perfect amalgam of his career: equal parts western and wry hardboiled crime story. A friend of mine thinks that Leonard's westerns are where his real legacy lies, and I don't know that he's wrong. The western movies based on Leonard are pretty hefty, including 3:10 to Yuma, Hombre, Joe Kidd, Valdez is Coming, and The Tall T. I don't know that my friend is right, either, because nobody makes westerns anymore. But crime stories? Those seem evergreen.

My favorite movie based on one of Leonard's novels is probably Stephen Soderbergh's Out of Sight, but it's hard to choose, given that there's also Jackie Brown, Get Shorty, Mr. Majestyk, and the aformentioned westerns. My favorite of Leonard's novels is probably Maximum Bob, because it's the funniest of them, not because it's the best (I liked the ill-fated TV series, too, probably in spite of my better judgement). But this is all splitting hairs.

So this morning, I grabbed The Law at Randado from my shelf and I'll start rereading it on my lunch hour. And if I drank, I'd raise a glass to Leonard after work, and I'll probably watch an episode of Justified. So long, Dutch.

1 comment:

Mykal said...

Absolutely fantastic tribute. As the trite saying goes, I could not agree more. His curse was he was a genre writer, but if standards of great writing are applied, I believe he was a writer of great, immortal stature. What he could do with so few words, so precise attention to perfect detail - amazing. He was a thrill to read every time. He made you absolutely know his characters, his action breathed and pulsed off the page. What more is there to do as a writer? Someday soon, I hope, the prestigious Library of America publications will begin to publish his work for the ages.