Thursday, 27 June 2013

Elmore Leonard's Dutch Treat: The Hunted, Swag, Mr. Majestyk (Viking Omnibus, 1987)

It's kind of fitting that my first proper post in six weeks (for reasons outlined here) should be on Elmore Leonard, since Leonard is who I've been reading pretty much exclusively for the past few months (and who I may well continue to read pretty much exclusively for the remainder of the year, I'm enjoying him so much; we shall see). Fortuitous too: this week's instalment of Patti Nase Abbott's Friday's Forgotten Books is devoted to Elmore Leonard, so my being on a Leonard kick has worked out rather nicely. I could've picked any one of the five Leonard novels I've read (or reread in one instance) recently and happily banged out a few hundred words without having to give it too much thought (in a good way: all of those novels have been great, although in truth I've yet to read a duff Leonard); but seeing as this is sort of a special occasion, I thought I'd take a look at this book:


Elmore Leonard's Dutch Treat ("Dutch" being Leonard's nickname), which is in fact three books; it's an omnibus comprising three of Leonard's novels from the 1970s: Mr. Majestyk (1974), Swag (1976) and The Hunted (1977). First published in this configuration by Arbor House in the US in 1985, the copy seen here is the notably scarce UK Viking edition from 1987 – a review copy, as it happens, as evidenced by the review slip accompanying the book:


While in the States Dutch Treat represented the hardback debut of two of the three novels (Mr. Majestyk and The Hunted, both of which were published as paperback originals), in the UK it represented the hardback debut of one of them (Swag; The Hunted was issued in hardcover by Secker & Warburg in 1978) and the first British publication overall of Mr. Majestyk. I've already reviewed Mr. Majestyk, so I'll skip daintily over that one and turn instead to The Hunted and Swag, the former of which is as lean and gripping a manhunt thriller as you could wish for, the latter a splendid example of the kind of low rent larceny Leonard specializes in.

Leonard brings his distinctive storytelling "voice" to both, but they're quite different novels, each boasting their own unique spin on well worn set-ups. While The Hunted is on the surface a straightforward man-on-the-run tale, it's the story's locale which lends it its additional edge: Israel, with its history of conflict (the scars visible now and then in the narrative) and constricted geography. It's a tiny country, almost impossible to hide in, which makes it perfect for a game of cat and mouse between a trio of hitmen and a Federal witness businessman and his new Marine buddy. The appeal of Swag (also known as Ryan's Rules), on the other hand, rests chiefly on the bickering relationship between criminals Frank Ryan and Ernest Stickley, Jr, alias Stick, who team up and embark on a string of hold-ups, following Frank's ten rules for success and happiness. But it's also a convincing, credible account of what life must be like for a middle rung recidivist – making enough to lead a fairly comfortable existence but knowing that at some point the party has to end – more than likely in a jail cell.


Something else Swag has, at least if you're familiar with Leonard's work, is a sense of a shared universe for the characters who populate the author's novels and stories. Frank shares a surname with Jack Ryan, of The Big Bounce and Unknown Man No. 89, a fact made explicit when a character in Swag remarks that he used to do some breaking and entering with Jack. Meanwhile Stick would go on to star in his own eponymous Leonard novel – and I'll be taking a look at that book, as well as some of the other Leonards I've read of late, before too long.

4 comments:

Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) said...

Welcome back Nick, hope fatherhood is going according to plan (i.e. completely against all expectations). I love the phrase you use to sumamrise his caper style, 'low rent larceny'- really does his style justice. Cheers mate.

Louis XIV, "The Sun King" (Nick Jones) said...

Whatever plan I might have had has well and truly gone out the window, Sergio, but it's actually going pretty well thus far. And thank you for the kind words.

John said...

Nice to see back in the blogging saddle, my friend. Hope all is well with you and EE and the new Mom.

I had no idea that Leonard liked to have his characters jump ship (so to speak) from book to book. Makes it all the more enticing. But I'm interested in reading all his westerns before I go back to his crime novels. Forty Lashes... was so odd and lively and utterly different from a typical western that I'm eager for more. OH! and thanks for stopping by my blog.

Book Glutton said...

The subtext of this post leads me to believe that if Edie ever gets a brother, he will be named Elmore.