Elmore Leonard died today.
This was the man who, in 1986, when I was fourteen, broke my crime fiction cherry with LaBrava. Joe, the ex-secret service agent, Jean, the faded movie star, the Miami backdrop – I loved every second and devoured it in one sitting.
I was late for school the next day due to that damn book, because I stayed up until the early hours of the morning reading it. And although my tardiness resulted in the threat of detention I couldn’t really hold it against the writer – he’d given me far too much enjoyment. In fact, I enjoyed LaBrava so much that I bought another four second-hand Elmore Leonard’s the next week – $wag, Stick, Glitz and Cat Chaser – and devoured every one of them.
Over the years I read more Elmore Leonard, a lot more, but kind of took his books for granted, too. They were always a pleasure to read (even the lesser ones), but for some reason, I would go long periods without reading him again. And for the life of me, I’m not sure why, because every time I did there would be the many pleasures of superb dialogue, sparely drawn yet fully rendered characters, controlled storytelling, and a great sense of humour (even when things got grim).
But it’s impossible to take him for granted any more because he’s gone and there’ll be no more trawls through the underworld with blue-collar crims and cops, all of who possessed the kind of patter that made you want to share a beer with them.
And that’s damn shame. My thoughts go out to his family.
So, I’m going to dig out an old copy of LaBrava, turn off the TV, sit back, listen to Maurice Zola spout off about Joe LaBrava’s photographs and let the story take hold.
So long, Elmore.