Tuesday, August 20, 2013

RIP, Elmore Leonard

This morning, we lost one of the best when Elmore Leonard passed away after complications from a stroke.  In tribute to old Dutch, here are reviews of three Elmore Leonard books I've read in the last couple years.

52 Pickup52 Pickup by Elmore Leonard

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Blackmailers have factory owner Harry Mitchell over a barrel. Either he pays them $105,000 a year or they turn over an incriminating film to the police and press, and more, if he doesn't pay up. Too bad Harry Mitchell has ideas of his own...

Elmore Leonard sure knows how to weave a serpentine tale, doesn't he? He takes a story that seems simple on the surface, that of some blackmailers hitting up a pigeon for money, and turns it into something else all together. It was written in 1974 but has a certain timelessness to it.

Harry Mitchell is the usual Leonard protagonist: cool, capable, and not entirely spotless. The way he handles the blackmailers set the stage for later Leonard protagonists like Chili Palmer and Raylan Givens. I like that Leonard made Barbara's behavior toward Harry believable after she found out he had an affair. About my only complaint with the story is that I wish Barbara would ahve gotten a crack at getting some payback on Alan.

The bad guys are an unsavory crew, as to be expected. I didn't expect some of them to go out the way they did, though. That's one of the reasons I mean to read more Elmore Leonard in 2012. He manages to surprise me in each outing. As usual with Leonard, the dialogue is as smooth as fine Scotch.

While it may be slightly less polished than some of his later works, all of the Leonard hallmarks are there: double crosses, slick dialogue, and fairly believable situations. I couldn't wait for the blackmailers to get what was coming to them and Leonard did not disappoint. Very highly recommended.

Swag Swag by Elmore Leonard

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When used car salesman Frank Ryan catches Ernest Stickley stealing a car off his lot, ideas start going through his head. Soon, Ryan and Stickley are armed robbers and damn good ones. Things go smoothly until someone offers them a crack at even bigger money...

Like many Elmore Leonard books, Swag is a fast-moving crime story. The two main characters, Ryan and Stick, are cast from one of Leonard' standard molds: the criminals who aren't as smart as they think they are. They're a bit of an odd couple. Stick's nervous and not all that confident while Ryan is overconfident and thinks he knows everything. They were pretty likeable as far as armed robbers go but I kept thinking about how Richard Stark's Parker would mop the floor with them.

The bad guys were suitably bad, both Sportree and the cops. As he does a lot of the time, Leonard makes the antagonists almost as interesting as the protagonists. Once complications start surfacing, they come in droves, from Arlene witnessing one of their early robberies, to Stick having to shoot two men, to Billy Ruiz. The ending was surprising but was also perfect.

Leonard's smooth-flowing dialogue and twisting plot were the stars of the show, as they normally are in one of his books. I loved that Frank Ryan had his rules of robbery, just like Elmore Leonard has his rules of writing.

It wasn't perfect but I liked it quite a bit. It was a good way to spend a Sunday evening.

The Moonshine WarThe Moonshine War by Elmore Leonard
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Bootlegger Son Martin has 150 barrels of whiskey his dad made stashed away somewhere and his old war buddy, Frank Long, now a crooked prohibition agent, has his sights set on them. Will Son cave in under the pressure and hand over the whiskey or will he put Long and his cronies into the ground?

Reading an Elmore Leonard book is like bullshitting with an old friend on their front porch. In this case, it would be whiskey we'd be drinking instead of a couple frosty beers.

Rural Kentucky in the 1930's is far from Elmore Leonard's usual haunts but after watching several seasons of Justified, I figured he could handle it. I was right.

The Moonshine War plays out like a lot of Elmore Leonard books. The promise of violence keeps building until the glorious shitstorm at the end. Frank Long trying to strongarm Son Martin out of his valuable whiskey is more of the same. It went a little differently than I thought it would near the end, which is always a plus for me.

The country dialog is very well done and drives the plot forward. Like in most Leonard books, Son Martin is just a little slicker than Frank Long and the others.

Son reminds me of Raylan Givens a bit of Raylan was running moonshine instead of being a US Marshall. He's a conflicted character, his young wife dying from the flu while he was in the army leaving him somewhat directionless. He's got a bit of that Givens inner rage going as well. When his neighbors started turning on him when he wouldn't roll over for Long and the others, I knew the violence was coming. The Moonshine War actually feels like a western more than anything else.

Any gripes? Not a one besides wanting to read more about Son Martin. 3.5 stars.

Thanks for the memories, Elmore.  There won't be another one like you.

Whosday II - Two Eleventh Doctor Who reviews

In the wake of the announcement of the actor playing the Twelfth Doctor, I decided I'd better finish reading the Eleventh Doctor novels I have on the pile.

Doctor Who: The Silent Stars Go ByDoctor Who: The Silent Stars Go By by Dan Abnett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The TARDIS takes a wrong turn on the way to Leadworth to drop the Ponds off for Christmas and The Doctor, Amy, and Rory find themselves on a far flung colony world that is in the grips of the worst winter the world has ever seen. But what's causing the hellish weather? And what's killing the livestock? And can the Doctor and the Ponds get to the bottom of things before it's too late?

Of course they can! After all, he's The Doctor.

The Silent Stars Go By sees the Doctor and Amy get separated from Rory early on, wandering around the frozen colony world of Hereafter. If only Rory hadn't gone back to the TARDIS for a heavier coat. After some mistaken identity shenanigans and disbelieving colonists, the meat of the story gets flung on the table in all it's frozen glory in the form of classic Who enemies, The Ice Warriors.

Abnett does a fairly good job. Rory and the Doctor both ring true to form from the TV series. It was hard not to hear the actor's voices in my head while reading. Amy, on the other hand, doesn't get to do much and is on the weaker side of things.

TSSGB felt like an old adaptation of a Doctor Who episode, lots of banter, running from things, and timey-whimey, which was the main problem I had with it. The whole thing felt really thin, like maybe Abnett had written a Doctor Who script at some point and slapped a few descriptions on it. The book was very dialogue-heavy and I could almost pick out where the commercial breaks would go.

Still, it wasn't all bad. There was a twist at the 75% mark, just like a lot of Doctor Who episodes, that was unexpected and saved the book from being a monster of the week affair. Abnett did a lot more with the Ice Warriors than I thought he would and the colony had some secrets of its own. Overall, I enjoyed the experience but I really wanted to love it. 3 out of 5 stars.

Doctor Who: Paradox LostDoctor Who: Paradox Lost by George Mann
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Doctor, Amy, and Rory wind up in London in 2789, just in time to see an android dredged from teh Thames. But how could a model of android that's just been created be almost a thousand years old? And what does its warning to the Doctor mean?

I'm not sure why I originally picked this up since I pretty much swore off reading George Mann after so-so experiences with The Affinity Bridge, The Osiris Ritual, and Ghosts of Manhattan. I think what sold me is that the plot description reminded me of the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode where they found Data's severed head in a cave beneath San Francisco.

This Doctor Who novel was actually the best Eleventh Doctor novel I've read so far. The Doctor, Amy, and Rory were portrayed with more accuracy than I've encountered in the past. The supporting characters, Arven the Android and Archibald Angelchrist, an old man with a past of adventuring, did their part more than adequately.

The plot is a pretty good one and could easily have been an Doctor Who episode. While the Doctor goes back to 1910 to investigate, Rory and Amy stay put in 2789 to check on Professor Gradius, a scientist conducting time travel experiments, only to run into trouble on their own. There's some timey-whimey and the two plotlines converge, complete with running away and the Doctor saving the day.

The threat, the Squall, are a batlike species of hive-minded aliens who invade the two points in time via a rift created by Gradius' experiments. Even though I knew all the main characters would survive, things got pretty tense a few times. The Doctor wrapped things up nicely and the epilogue was pretty fitting.

For once, everything is fish fingers and custard. This is probably as close to a 4 that I'll ever give a Doctor Who novel.