iamnothamlet’s #CBR5 Review #44: Rum Punch by Elmore Leonard

Cannonball 44


Elmore Leonard, who recently died at the age of 87, was a godsend to movie producers, who gobbled up his potboiler crime novels and adapted as many of them as they could. Leonard was a-ok with them taking and reshaping his words, as long as the checks cleared, but he himself said his novels had only spawned three good movies: Get Shorty, Out of Sight, and Jackie Brown, which is adapted from Rum Punch.

In the book, Jackie Brown is an airline stewardess and an aging beauty who funnels money into Florida for an arms dealer with connections in Jamaica. When the ATF and the state police collar her with $50,000 and a small amount of cocaine that doesn’t belong to her, Jackie tries to find a way out of the situation. If she can make off with enough money to retire, that would be a bonus.

Leonard is perhaps most admired for his bad-guy creations. As a rule, they are more selfish and stupid than your typical villains. Elmore Leonard understood better than anyone that the term criminal mastermind was an oxymoron. He also understood that bad guys were more like normal people than we like to think, which is why so much of the action of Rum Punch takes place while characters are doing such everyday things as shopping at the mall, talking about music, or forgetting where they parked their car.

For as much fun as Leonard has with his characters, the plotting in Rum Punch leaves a bit to be desired. Jackie’s plans and the counter-plotting by the bad guys and the cops get bogged down in minutiae and overshadow the actual events of the story, which take place in quick bursts of excitement followed by long lulls. The senseless violence and unending stupidity lend an air of verisimilitude, but they don’t do enough to entertain the reader.

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