Saturday 16 December 2017

Elmore Leonard, crime genius behind 'Get Shorty', dies

Elmore Leonard. Photo: AP/Carlos Osorio
Elmore Leonard. Photo: AP/Carlos Osorio

ELMORE Leonard, a former adman who became one of America's foremost crime writers, has died aged 87.

His researcher, Gregg Sutter, said Elmore died yesterday morning from complications from a stroke.

His more than 40 novels were populated by pathetic schemers, clever con men and casual killers. Many of the novels – notably Out Of Sight, Get Shorty and Be Cool – were made into films. Critics loved his simple, direct language.

His millions of fans made all his books since Glitz (1985) best-sellers. When they flocked to watch John Travolta in the movie version of Get Shorty in 1995, its author became the darling of Hollywood's hippest directors.

His novels were characterised by moral ambivalence about crime, black humour and wickedly acute depictions of human nature.


"When something sounds like writing, I rewrite it," Leonard often said. As author Ann Arensberg put it in a New York Times book review: "I didn't know it was possible to be as good as Elmore Leonard."

One remarkable thing about Leonard's talent is how long it took the world to notice – he didn't have a best-seller until he was 60.

He had some minor successes in the 1950s and 1960s writing Western stories and novels, a couple of which were made into movies. But when interest in the Western dried up, he turned to writing scripts for educational and industrial films while trying crime novels.

The first, The Big Bounce, was rejected 84 times before it was published in 1969.

Leonard followed up with several more fast-paced crime novels, including Swag (1976). Leonard was already following the advice he would later give to young writers: "Try to leave out the parts that people skip."

Hollywood rediscovered him. It took Barry Sonnenfeld to finally show Hollywood how to turn a Leonard novel into a really good movie. Get Shorty was the first to feel and sound like an Elmore Leonard novel.

Then Quentin Tarantino took a turn with Rum Punch, turning it into Jackie Brown, starring Pam Grier. But Steven Soderbergh stayed faithful to Leonard's story and dialogue with Out Of Sight.

Leonard married three times: to Beverly Cline in 1949, Joan Shepard in 1979 and, at 68, to Christine Kent in 1993. He had five children.

In 2012, after learning he was to become a National Book Award lifetime achievement recipient, Leonard said he had no intention of ending his life's work.

"I probably won't quit until I just quit everything – quit my life – because it's all I know how to do," he said at the time.


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