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.
I decided to take some time off from reviewing, so it’s time to catch back up. Happily, I’m getting back into the race with a good one, When the Women Come Out to Dance by Elmore Leonard. I’m a huge fan of the FX series Justified, so I finally decided to give the source material a try. I almost changed my mind when I saw the cover (legs do not looks like that), however, my love for U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens eventually won out. When the Women Come Out to Dance is a collection of straightforward, well-written, interesting short stories bound together vaguely with the theme of “crime.” From the first story in the book, Sparks, it’s apparent that Leonard has a knack for writing people. The stories are often no longer than 20 pages, but in that time you know the people in them, you know what motivates them, what troubles them, and their history. It takes a special kind of author to condense such impressive character development into a measly 20 pages. Leonard’s characters often find themselves on the wrong side of the law, but they are not wholly unsympathetic, they are people, they have flaws but they also have goodness.
I won’t discuss every story in the book, however, I will discuss the one that motivated me to read it, Fire in the Hole. Raylan Givens is a Deputy U. S. Marshal. He wears a ten gallon hat and cowboy boots. He looks like this:
Somehow, he was less attractive in my imagination.
Raylan is stationed in Miami when he warns a mob-connected gun-thug, Tommy Bucks, to get out of town within 24 hours. Bucks does not comply, Bucks is shot down. With the Federal Marshal Service fearing the ensuing bad press, Raylan is sent back to his hometown of Harlan County, Kentucky. It’s there that he rekindles an old flame, finds an old friend heading a neo-Nazi organization, and tries to live in a place he thought he would never have to return to.