It is impossible to overstate the influence Elmore Leonard has had on me and many other crime novelists in this game. He's been writing for sixty years, starting in Westerns, and then moving on to the crime genre in the late sixties when the Western genre pretty much keeled over and died in fiction. His dialogue and prose are virtually unmatched. Authors like Hemingway, James M. Cain, Raymond Chandler, Richard Bissell and George V. Higgins, in particular, helped shape his voice, but he has proven over the years that he is not an imitator. He follows his own path and the authors who have followed in his footsteps now they are looking up at him. Authors like George Pelecanos, Dennis Lehane, Richard Price, Michael Connelly, and James Ellroy have all been influenced in some way by his work and have made their own names with their work, but to a degree their paths wouldn't be possible without Leonard's.
I started looking for a list of the best Elmore's, but I had a hard time finding one. There are a number of camps for what they believe to be his best era and they are quite passionate in their own way. Some prefer the gritty 70's stories in Detroit, some prefer his Miami era during the early 1980's, some like his more humorous side in the 1990's, and there are even a few, I bet, that like his diverse setting pattern in the 2000's to the present. You even have a few die-hards who love his Westerns best. He has definitely done good work in all the eras, so starting tomorrow I'll be counting down 10-1 his best novels, one a week, and the final one will coincide with the season 3 finale of Justified.
What's the criteria? Nothing major. Great writing, great characters, and elements that make me want to read it again. I don't expect this to be the definitive list, but if nothing else it'll be a fun rip through some of the best novels written by the greatest crime novelist ever. I'll throw in some critical analysis and favorite scenes and favorite character and what have you.
So get ready for some fun. I know I'll be.