Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Top 10 Elmore Leonard Books: #7

As promised, I will continue my list. It likely won't be one a week, though. I might just run through them in the next couple of weeks.

7. Rum Punch, 1992

Rum Punch is better known for the 1997 Quentin Tarantino movie it became, and as well it should be, which I will get into a little later. As a book, though, this is easily one of his best because Leonard is able to take multiple story lines and weave them together without even breaking a sweat.

In fact, the prose is what stands out to me in this book. I can't think of a book where Leonard was so at ease and so lyrical. He moves from scene to scene, character to character, and making it look so relaxed and so good. In the previous book, Maximum Bob (not on the list) it didn't look so easy. The characters weren't that interesting, though they were colorful, and the plot seemed to be stuck on autopilot. Not so with Rum Punch. Double-and-triple crosses happen with regularity and when they aren't talking Leonard is making his prose work for him like never before.

Rum Punch is an ensemble book like Maximum Bob with a woman in the lead, more or less. It is worth noting, though, that she debuts fifty pages in and even then she's only in the book maybe thirty-five, forty percent of the time. She's certainly the catalyst for the plot, but as far as scenes go she's competing with Nicolet, Ordell, Louis, Max, and even some jackboy thugs who learn why they should have stayed in school in one hilarious scene. We start with all of these disparate threads and Leonard keeps building and building until the final fifty pages when the body count explodes. The best part? Doesn't feel rushed or sloppy.

If there is a flaw, I would have liked more time with Jackie and Ordell and Max. Nicolet and the cop angle, while important, seems more like an aside. I was more interested in the half-million dollars and less about the guns Ordell is selling.

Fun Facts: Leonard aficionados know this is, of course, a quasi-sequel to The Switch, which features Louis, Ordell, Melanie, and Cedric Walker. Walker makes a return of sorts in 1995's Riding the Rap as an off-stage catalyst for a crucial scene in the book.

Movie capsule review: Tarantino's 1997 version, Jackie Brown, changed Jackie's name and her skin color, but none of her spunk. Tarantino was a huge fan of Leonard and it clearly shows. He is able to retain most of the dialogue while adding a few touches of his own in spots. He streamlines the story a bit by cutting out the gun subplot with the Neo-Nazis and keeps the focus on the characters and on their language. It may run a bit long for some, but with dialogue and characters this good why quibble? Until Justified came along this was the definitive Elmore Leonard adaptation. Grade: A

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