11-10-1925 – 20-8-2013
Elmore Leonard, the prolific crime novelist whose louche characters, deadpan dialogue and immaculate prose style in novels like Get Shorty, Freaky Deaky and Glitz established him as a modern master of American genre writing, has died at his home in Michigan. He was 87.
To his admiring peers, Leonard did more than merely validate the popular crime thriller; he stripped the form of its worn-out affectations, reinventing it for a new generation and elevating it to a higher literary shelf.
Reviewing Riding the Rap in 1995, Martin Amis cited Leonard's ''gifts - of ear and eye, of timing and phrasing - that even the most indolent and snobbish masters of the mainstream must vigorously covet.''
Leonard started by writing westerns. His first story was published in Argosy magazine in 1951, and 60 years later he was still turning out a book a year because, he said, ''It's fun.''
Amused and possibly a bit exasperated by frequent requests to expound on his writing techniques, Leonard drew up ''Ten Rules of Writing,'' published in The New York Times in 2001. These included: ''Try to leave out the parts that readers tend to skip'' and ''If it sounds like writing, rewrite it.''
Leonard's narrative voice was crisp, clean and direct. He had no time to waste on superfluous adverbs, adjectives or tricky verb forms, and he had no patience for moody interior monologues or lyrical descriptive passages.
''I always write from a character's point of view,'' he said, adding that he couldn't even begin writing a scene until he had decided which character would be assigned the narrative voice. More often than not, that character would be among his rogues' gallery of brutal killers, thuggish gangsters and slick con artists.
Leonard called them ''my guys'' and delighted in their affable amorality and pragmatic professionalism. He took special pride in the technical skills these working-class gun dealers, loan sharks, bookies, thieves, grifters and mob enforcers brought to their trade.
The players in Leonard's books are always energised by the big, bad cities where they operate. There's a wicked backbeat in his urban novels that pulses through cities like Miami, Detroit, New Orleans and San Juan.
But Leonard lived quietly beyond the city's reach. During his 28-year marriage to Beverly Cline, which ended in divorce in 1977, he lived in Birmingham, a suburb of Detroit. When he married for the second time in 1979, to Joan Shepard, who died in 1993, he moved into a house seven blocks away. He and his third wife, Christine Kent, had a home in another Detroit suburb. That marriage, too, ended in divorce. Leonard is survived by five children from his first marriage.
Elmore John Leonard Jr. was born in New Orleans. Nine years later his father, an executive with General Motors, moved the family to Detroit. After graduating from high school in 1943, he did a two-year stretch in the Navy.
Picking up his schooling at the University of Detroit, he graduated in 1950 and became a copywriter for a Detroit advertising agency.
Before going to work in the morning, he would try his hand at writing westerns. After selling his first story, Trail of the Apaches, he went on to write a number of western novels and short stories throughout the '50s and '60s, including Hombre (1961), which was named by the Western Writers of America as one of the 25 best westerns ever written.
His first crime novel, The Big Bounce, set in Michigan, was published in 1969 and kicked off a series of hard-boiled crime narratives.
Glitz, published in 1985, was Leonard's 25th novel and the breakthrough that flew to the top of the best-seller fiction lists. But he felt the movie Get Shorty really made his a household name.
''After writing almost anonymously'' for decades, Leonard wryly noted in 1996, ''I am what you call an overnight success.''
The only thing slightly raffish about the soft-spoken, laconic author was his nickname, Dutch, and the cloth working-guy caps he wore in all kinds of weather.
New York Times