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Creator / Elmore Leonard

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Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.
— Elmore Leonard's Rule #10 of writing

Elmore John Leonard Jr. (October 11, 1925 August 20, 2013) was an American novelist and screenwriter. He started as a writer of Westerns, but switched to whodunits and modern pulp fiction, where he got the most acclaim. Several of his novels have been adapted to screen, both big and small, and he also wrote a few screenplays. His career spanned six decades, and he continued working up until his death.

He's known as "The Dickens of Detroit" for his catchy, intimate descriptions of the people of that city (he lived in the Detroit suburbs). Author wannabes should definitely read up on him. His prose style and ear for dialogue are worth checking out for inspiration. Kingsley Amis once told him, "Your prose makes Raymond Chandler look clumsy."

Also worth checking out by author wannabes is his Ten Rules of Writing. To sum up briefly: knock it off with the Purple Prose.

Sadly, he was struck down by stroke and died at his home in Detroit from complications of the stroke.


Some of his better-known works:

  • "Three-Ten to Yuma" (short story, 1953): adapted for the big screen in 1957 and again in 2007
  • "The Captives" (short story, 1955): adapted for the big screen as The Tall T in 1957
  • Last Stand at Saber River (1959): on the small screen in 1997 starring Tom Selleck
  • Hombre (1961): big screen in 1967, starring Paul Newman
  • The Big Bounce: written in 1969, adapted for the big screen that same year before the novel was released, then re-adapted for the big screen in 2004.
  • The Moonshine War (1969): big screen in 1970
  • Valdez is Coming (1970): big screen in 1971
  • Mr. Majestyk (1974): big screen the same year, starring Charles Bronson
  • 52 Pick-Up (1974): big screen in 1986
  • Unknown Man No. 89 (1977)
  • The Switch (1978): Famously the book that Quentin Tarantino accidentally shoplifted as a kid. Big screen in 2013 as Life of Crime.
  • City Primeval (1980)
  • Stick (1983): made into a movie in 1985, directed by and starring Burt Reynolds
  • La Brava (1983): won an Edgar Award
  • Killshot (1989): big screen in 2008
  • Get Shorty (1990): big screen in 1995
  • Maximum Bob (1991): made into a short-lived 1998 TV series
  • Rum Punch (1992): big screen in 1997
  • Out of Sight (1996): big screen in 1998
  • Be Cool (1999): big screen in 2005
  • Fire in the Hole (2001): made into 2010 TV series Justified
  • Tishomingo Blues (2002): Leonard's favorite of his own work
  • The Hot Kid (2005)
  • Road Dogs (2009)

He also wrote some screenplays that were not based on one of his novels:

Tropes featured in his work:

  • Action Girl: Karen Sisco is a strong, independent, and sometimes very violent leading lady.
    • Most of his other works include women who are quite capable at what they do, whether it's figuring out The Caper or handling themselves in a fight.
  • Affably Evil: A good number of bad guys will be quite charming and chatty with you, up until the guns come out and The Caper is underway.
  • Anti-Hero: The main characters of a novel that happen to be law enforcement - hi, Raylan! - may have a few problems playing by the rules...
  • Anti-Villain: The main characters of a novel that happen to be on the bad side of the law may have a few rules they follow themselves that make them sometimes more trustworthy and noble than the cops hunting them.
  • Bank Robbery: Jack Foley, in Out of Sight and Road Dogs, is a Gentleman Thief bank robber, who never used a gun on a job and still robbed more than 250 banks.
  • Black-and-Gray Morality: Less between the Cops and Robbers - although the occasional Dirty Cops may show up - than between the members of any given scheme going down, often between the Anti Villains who just want to get the job done and the villains willing to wipe out everybody without a care.
  • Casual Danger Dialogue: Leonard was a master of cool chatter.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The ice-cream cone in The Hot Kid.
  • Conspicuously Public Assassination: In Pronto, mob hitman Tommy Bucks lampshades the fact that he can walk into a crowded restaurant, shoot his target in the head and then walk out without any witnesses being able to fully identify him. It is implied that he killed people like this in the past but the one time he tries to do so in the book he is instead met by US Marshal Raylan Givens. Raylan plays out his own version of this trope since he is perfectly willing to gun down Tommy in a public place even if Tommy does not draw his gun first. Tommy murdered a man right in front of Raylan and was not charged with the crime so Raylan is determined to prove to Tommy that ultimately one cannot get away with committing a murder in front of a US Marshal.
  • Continuity Nod: While not especially known for recurring "series characters," readers will often encounter recurring characters. Often a minor character from an earlier novel will be a main character in a later book, or vice versa. One can make a game out of tracking Elmore Leonard's minor characters from work to work:
    • Road Dogs unites characters from Out of Sight, La Brava, and 1995's Riding the Rap.
    • Jack Foley in Out Of Sight and Road Dogs novels gets hit with hard time thanks to the judge from Maximum Bob.
    • Ray Nicolette pops up in both Rum Punch and Out of Sight. When Michael Keaton played Ray in Jackie Brown (retitled from Rum Punch) he also cameoed as the character later when Out of Sight got made into a film.
    • U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens, currently appearing on TV's Justified, was the lead character in Pronto and Riding the Rap before being reassigned to Kentucky in the short story "Fire in the Hole," on which the series is technically based.
  • FBI Agent: The plot of Pronto starts off because an FBI agent wants to build a racketeering case against a Miami mobster. He tries to pressure a local bookie into testifying against the mobster by making it seem like the bookie was stealing from the mob. However, by the time people start getting killed because of this scheme, the FBI agent had decided that the mobster is too small-time and abandons the investigation. It is up to US Marshal Raylan Givens to clean up the mess the FBI has created.
  • Gentleman Thief: Jack Foley, from Out of Sight and Road Dogs. While he worked as a bank robber, he made a point of never using a gun while robbing more banks than anyone else in the FBI databanks.
  • Good Is Not Soft: In Pronto, Italian-born mafioso Tommy Bucks considers Americans to be soft and prides himself on being a hard man who can kill someone in cold blood without a second thought. US Marshal Raylan Givens is an honest American police officer and thus Tommy assumes that Raylan is ultimately soft. He holds unto this belief until the very end when he finally realizes that Raylan is quite willing and capable of just shooting Tommy dead in the middle of a crowded restaurant.
  • Hanging Judge: Maximum Bob
  • Hello, Attorney!: Carolyn Wilder in City Primeval.
  • Hillbilly Moonshiner: Son Martin in The Moonshine War.
  • Honor Among Thieves: Leonard might underscore a caper plot by having one or two of the crooks running their own scam against the others, or scheming to end up with all the loot with the others either dead or framed for the caper.
  • Kudzu Plot: The beauty of Leonard's prose is that it tends to un-complicate complicated plots. (Check out La Brava.)
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Reverend Dawn Navarro from Riding the Rap and Road Dogs. A lot of her fortune telling is based on understandable deductive reasoning or just information she secretly already had, but she makes enough accurate statements without such methods to make you wonder.
  • Only in Florida: While Detroit gets a lot of love, Elmore also sets a lot of action in Florida.
  • Organ Theft: Raylan features a couple crooks doing this, but in a variation they're not selling the organs to others, but essentially holding them hostage for money from the person they were taken from, bypassing the whole comparability issue.
  • The Plan: He's got a funny way of making them seem pretty simple.
  • Pretender Diss: In Pronto, Nicky is a mobster wannabe who bluffed his way into a job with a small-time Miami mob boss. When he and Professional Killer Tommy Bucks go to Italy, Tommy and the Italian mafiosi quickly realize how big a poser Nicky is and insult him to his face. Since Nicky does not know Italian, it takes him days to understand that he is being insulted.
  • Purple Prose: Averted. Definitely not Beige Prose, though.
  • Said Bookism: Averted. One of Leonard's "Ten Rules" advises against this.
  • Sequel: Get Shorty is one of the few of his novels to receive the full sequel treatment, with Be Cool.
    • Also Road Dogs and the Raylan novels/short stories.
    • Rum Punch brings back the characters of Ordell, Louis, and Melanie from The Switch—making the 2014 film Life Of Crime a prequel of sorts to Jackie Brown.
  • Show Within a Show: "Mr. Lovejoy" from Get Shorty. "It will be my Driving Miss Daisy".
  • A Simple Plan: In Swag and Rum Punch, it goes predictably awry.
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: In Split Images, Detroit homicide detective Bryan Hurd is an obvious stand-in for Detroit homicide detective Raymond Cruz. Cruz appeared in some of Leonard's prior work, which was being optioned at the time.
  • Too Dumb to Live: His villains typically have at least one comically incompetent member in the group, though it's even odds if it's actually their fault when they lose.
  • U.S. Marshal: Several recurring characters, including Raylan Givens, Karen Sisco, and her father, Marshall Sisco (retired, and yes, he was "Marshal Marshall Sisco.")
  • The Western: What he started writing before switching to modern urban crime thrillers halfway through his career.
    • Leonard's skill was taking the ethos of the Wild West and transplanting it to the modern day. Guys like Raylan Givens or Jack Foley wouldn't be out of place in 1880s Arizona. And Ben Wade would fit right in to modern-day Miami.