Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Top 10 Elmore Leonard books: #8

The most recent entry on the list and in some ways the book he was born to write.

8. The Hot Kid, 2005

It seems fitting that Elmore would write a book about the Prohibition/Depression Era, which he grew up in during his early years. You just didn’t think it would take close to 55 years since his debut to write one. Nevertheless, it is a wondrous piece of work and easily the best book he has written in the 21st Century.

Like last week’s Get Shorty, the book deals with a number of characters looking for fame and fortune. Difference is fame and fortune often comes with the caveat of death. Jack Belmont, the antagonist of the novel, has no qualms about death as long as he’s the one dealing. He’s not the sharpest tool in the shop, but what he lacks for in brains he more than makes up for in tenacity and violent aggression.

The protagonist, Carlos Webster, isn’t too far removed from Belmont. The difference being he’s a U.S. Marshal and is more likely to deliver violence to those who deserve it. In a lot of ways, he’s very similar to Raylan Givens, who would have been right at home in the 1920’s setting. Carlos is a little more restrained and a little more aware, but the parallels are obvious and hard to ignore.

Leonard even has some fun with a little self-awareness in Tony Antonelli, who has a habit of breaking the rules Elmore Leonard set down in 2000. Antonelli, like the others, is looking to strike it big, but he’s more comfortable on the sidelines and orating in such a way that calls attention to the writer instead of the story. Practice makes perfect. Elmore cut his teeth in the Western genre for close to two decades and he had his share of bumps along the way, but he learned the game and in an interesting way he’s come full circle with this book.

While Leonard spends more time with backstory than he has in previous novels, the vignettes and characters are among his strongest and Leonard’s love of the prohibition/depression era and the characters and myths and heroes are front and center.

Fun fact: Veterans of Leonard’s novels will of course recognize Carlos Webster’s father Virgil as one of the main characters of his 1998 novel Cuba Libre.

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