Monday, 29 July 2013

Cuba Libre by Elmore Leonard (Viking, 1998): Book Review

The generally accepted narrative of Elmore Leonard's writing career is that from 1951 (when he sold his first short story) to 1961 he wrote nothing but westerns, and when he returned to writing fiction in 1969 after an enforced break (the western market having dried up) he abandoned westerns in favour of crime fiction. But that broad outline is only part of the story. In truth, Leonard never completely turned his back on the western form: he continued to pen out-and-out westerns into the late 1970s (Valdez is Coming, 1970; Forty Lashes Less One, 1972; Gunsights, 1979), and it could be argued that even some of his contemporaneously set novels are westerns in all but name (Mr. Majestyk; The Hunted maybe; the Raylan Givens stories). And then there are those novels that fall somewhere in between – historical works like The Moonshine War (1969), The Hot Kid (2005) and this book:

Cuba Libre, published in 1998 and seen here in its British Viking edition, which sports the same Chip Kidd-designed dust jacket as the American Delacorte edition. Set in Cuba in 1898 on the eve of the Spanish-American War and the accompanying Cuban struggle for independence, it follows former bank robber Ben Tyler and his friend Charlie Burke as they transport a string of horses to the island – said horses being but a cover for a shipment of guns intended for the Cuban revolutionaries. Predictably, the pair soon run into trouble, both at the hands of the Guardia Civil and in particular one officer, Lionel Tavalera, and with an American planter, Roland Boudreaux. Meanwhile, in Havana harbour, seagoing marine Virgil Webster embarks on his own parallel adventure, as the ship he's aboard, the USS Maine, is sunk following an explosion – an event which will propel America into conflict with Spain.

Leonard weaves fact into fiction throughout Cuba Libre, blurring the lines between the two to suit his purposes. For example, although the Maine did indeed sink off the coast of Havana in 1898 with the loss of 266 lives, it seems at least as likely that it was caused by the spontaneous combustion of the ship's coal bunker than by, as Leonard suggests, a Spanish mine. But the author uses the disaster to shape Virgil Webster's story: suspecting he knows the truth, the Spanish authorities throw him in jail, in the process flinging him into the path of Ben Tyler. For Leonard, characters are always paramount; rather than slavishly recount the major engagements of the war and the revolution, in his hands the upheaval becomes a backdrop to the self-serving agendas and shifting allegiances of Tyler, Webster, Tavalera and Boudreaux, as well as Boudreaux's mistress, Amelia Brown, and Cuban wrangler Victor Fuentes – not all of whom, buffeted as they are by the events unfolding around them, will make it out alive.

Mind you, I've yet to read an Elmore Leonard book where there isn't at least one death, and usually more than one – and so it is here (there's a particularly shocking and unexpected killing a third of the way in). And with a fair smattering of duels and gunfights, prison escapes and horseback pursuits, ambushes, double-crosses and the tantalising prospect of stolen loot, despite the historical trappings the novel stands revealed as what it truly is: a western, plain and simple.

A couple of asides before we move on to the next Elmore Leonard novel. Courtesy of a September 1996 New Yorker article by Alec Wilkinson (kindly sent to me by Book Glutton; I'm not a New Yorker subscriber), I learned that much of Leonard's research for Cuba Libre came from one book: Our Islands and Their People, Volume I (1899), a copy of which was found by Leonard's researcher, Gregg Sutter (who these days also runs the official Elmore Leonard website), in a used bookstore on the way to see the author to discuss the novel. (When he saw the book, Leonard – who at that point was only nine pages into Cuba Libre and was having trouble with the dialogue of the period – reportedly exclaimed, "Oh, my God! Oh! Look at this!" then added: "This book, I can't believe it. A picture book of the period. This is all I need... I can get everything I need out of this." To which a despondent Sutter replied, "Don't say that. That's the last thing I want to hear.") And in yet another example of the interrelated nature of Leonard's characters across his canon, Virgil Webster is later revealed as having had a son – lawman Carl Webster, star of The Hot Kid, Comfort to the Enemy (2006) and Up in Honey's Room (2007), the latter of which also boasts an appearance by Virgil.

Anyway, seeing as we're on the subject of Leonard's westerns, let's have a look at one of his best next: 1970's Valdez is Coming, which kicks off a run of posts on Elmore Leonard paperbacks...

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Road Dogs by Elmore Leonard (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2009); Sequel to Out of Sight (and LaBrava... and Riding the Rap)

NB: Featured in this week's Friday's Forgotten Books.

To read his introduction to the 1989 Armchair Detective Library edition of The Big Bounce (originally 1969), you'd think Elmore Leonard doesn't really go in for sequels. (He notes that "each time you sell a film rights to a studio, they own the character for a specified number of years. So I change the names".) But dig into his backlist a bit and you'll find it's fair littered with follow-ups, series and returning characters. The Big Bounce's Jack Ryan features again in Unknown Man No. 89 (1977), while Ernest Stickley, Jr., alias Stick, stars in both Swag (1976; sometimes mistakenly lumped in with the two Jack Ryan novels due to it costarring a Frank Ryan – no relation – although Jack does get a mention) and Stick (1983, which itself almost begat a sequel). US Marshal Raylan Givens (of Justified fame) stars in Pronto (1993), Riding the Rap (1995), Fire in the Hole (2002, a short story in When the Women Come Out to Dance) and Raylan (2012), while fellow Marshal Carl Webster stars in The Hot Kid (2005), Comfort to the Enemy (2006, a short story/novella collection) and Up in Honey's Room (2007). And then there's this:

Road Dogs, published in 2009 – this copy being the Weidenfeld & Nicolson British first edition, with a dust jacket illustrated by Tim Marrs. Ostensibly a sequel to 1996's Out of Sight – it picks up serial bank robber Jack Foley's story shortly after he's shot and arrested by US Marshal Karen Sisco at the end of that novel – it's also, in a way, a sequel to two other Leonard books: LaBrava (1983) and Riding the Rap, at least in as much as it features returning characters from both. There's Dawn Navarro – "Reverend Dawn" – a comely psychic encountered by Raylan in Riding the Rap; and rather more surprisingly there's her common-law husband, Cundo Rey, a one-time car thief and go-go dancer turned Hollywood drug dealer and property magnate who, when last seen towards the end of LaBrava, appeared to be very dead indeed.

Cundo does offer an explanation for his miraculous resurrection, but the truth of the matter is that, as Leonard admitted in a 2009 interview by James Mustich on the Barnes and Noble Review site, the writer simply "liked Cundo Rey a lot" and "didn't think I'd done enough with [him] and Dawn in those earlier books". Jack Foley's return, on the other hand, was inspired by George Clooney's portrayal in Steven Soderbergh's film version of Out of Sight (much as Raylan Givens' return in Raylan was inspired by Timothy Olyphant's take on the character in Justified): "I thought it was one of [Clooney's] best pictures," Leonard told Mustich, "no doubt about it. I thought he'd want to do another one." (To date, the actor has show no inclination.) When Mustich asked whether it was harder writing Foley this time with Clooney in Leonard's head, the author replied, "It worked – because I could hear Clooney." (He added: "I couldn't bring back one of my favorite characters, Stick, because Burt Reynolds played him, and if I think of Burt Reynolds as Stick, it won't work.")

Personally, I'm not sure I especially heard Clooney whilst reading Road Dogs – no more so, I don't think, than when I read Out of Sight – but Foley remains for me one of Leonard's lesser leads: charming and affable, sure, but lacking the depth of, say, Stick or Joe LaBrava. That said, his interactions with Cundo – with whom he served time, and who engineers and pays for the bank robber's release from prison – and Dawn, as well as frustrated FBI man Lou Adams (not to mention assorted gangsters) are enjoyable enough – which is good, because the novel is supremely plotless, even by Elmore Leonard's standards (the writer isn't terribly interested in plot per se). Instead there's a succession of plans and schemes – some oblique (why Cundo gets Foley out of prison is never really established), others rather more obvious (albeit engagingly duplicitous), and almost all abortive (disappointingly so in the case of an underdeveloped cul-de-sac involving a rich divorcee). And with little in the way of menace to offset the double-crossing and banter, the net result is a lightweight, fun confection, but nothing more.

Next in this interminable season of Elmore Leonard posts: 1998 historical adventure-cum-western Cuba Libre.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Elmore Leonard's Stick (Allen Lane, 1984, Signed First Edition) and the Sequel That Almost Was

Before we get stuck into the meat of this post, i.e. how Elmore "Dutch" Leonard's intended sequel to his 1983 novel Stick (itself a kind-of-sequel to Swag, 1976) morphed instead into his subsequent novel LaBrava (also 1983), an illustration, dear reader, if you'll indulge me, of the madness of book collecting. Well, my book collecting, anyway...

A couple of months ago I bought a 1983 Arbor House US first edition of Stick, one of my favourite Elmore Leonard novels (part of a job lot of Leonard books purchased from Brighton book dealer Alan White) – a perfectly (near) fine copy thereof, and actually quite a nice, very reasonably priced find for someone living in the UK (where American editions aren't always easy to come by). Good enough, in other words, for any sane book collector.

Cut to a few weeks ago, and having (re)read and reviewed Stick and acquired (and reviewed) LaBrava in a signed Viking UK first edition, I was browsing AbeBooks and the like for other interesting Elmore Leonard books bearing his John Hancock and spotted a relatively inexpensive signed copy of Stick for sale, from a British seller. It wasn't clear which edition the book was, but my strong suspicion was that it was the British first edition, published by Allen Lane in 1984. Figuring it would make for a nice companion to LaBrava, I made some enquiries and established that it was indeed the Allen edition:

which, although the dust jacket is not dissimilar to the US Arbor one (it uses the same Antler & Baldwin logo, except with a different typographic treatment – and different blurb), is pretty uncommon in and of itself. But especially so signed:

(on the title page, which, unlike the US edition, repeats the cover logo), this copy being the only one I've come across.

Obviously that's no excuse for buying the same novel twice, but it's not like it's the first time I've done that (stand up, Donald "Richard Stark" Westlake and his Parker novels), and its acquisition does at least afford me the opportunity to return to the article by Elmore Leonard's researcher, Gregg Sutter, in the Winter 1986 edition of The Armchair Detective, and the relationship between Stick and LaBrava. The genesis of Stick is interesting enough (apparently Leonard was inspired to write the novel as a result of checking his calendar and realising that "Stick was due to get out of Jackson State Penitentiary after doing seven years for armed robbery" – which nobody but Leonard would have known since the last time Stick had been seen, at the end of Swag, he'd only just been arrested), and there's some intriguing background on Sutter's work on the book (having to research how to break into a car, for example). But things get really interesting when Sutter turns to LaBrava:

At first, the book which [Leonard would] eventually call LaBrava was going to be a sequel to Stick. This time, Stick would go to work for a private eye who would hire him to keep an eye on a female rock singer who then hires Stick as her bodyguard. Dutch focused on Patti Smith, the eerie punk chanteuse of the middle '70s as a model for this singer and named her Moon. But as quickly as the idea was born it was cast aside. Next Stick was going to be a photographer who had taken some award-winning photos of Indians in the Southwest after leaving in haste from Barry [Stam]'s place in Stick. His studio is destroyed in a fire, and he goes back and tries to re-create it...

Then, Stick the character got summarily dumped from the story. The book Stick had just been sold to Universal and Dutch wanted to avoid the hassle he'd had with Split Images where he'd had to change Raymond Cruz's name to Bryan Hurd and lighten his moustache because United Artists had the name Raymond Cruz locked up for five years, making a movie deal difficult if not impossible.

The names weren't right anyway. To Dutch, getting the names of characters right is akin to getting the character right.

The passage is quite illuminating as regards Elmore Leonard's writing process and the way a book changes from conception to completion – the road not taken, if you will – but there are a couple of other noteworthy bits besides. Firstly, in the event, elements of Leonard's original ideas for the Stick sequel did make it into LaBrava: Joe LaBrava is a photographer; his mentor, Maurice Zola, took some award-winning shots; and the notion of Stick looking after a female rock singer evolved into LaBrava looking after a Hollywood starlet. But there's also the business about the movie rights to Stick being sold. Leonard stated in his intro to the 1989 Armchair Detective Library edition of The Big Bounce that "each time you sell a film rights to a studio, they own the character for a specified number of years. So I change the names." That's probably the chief reason why the Stick sequel became LaBrava, and it's also, as alluded to by Sutter, why the intended sequel to 1980's City Primeval (featuring Detective Raymond Cruz) turned instead into 1981's Split Images (featuring Lieutenant Bryan Hurd).

Mind you, Leonard doesn't always change the names. Stick of course appears in both Swag and Stick, while another Leonard ne'er-do-well, Jack Ryan, features in The Big Bounce (1969) and Unknown Man No. 89 (1977), and US Marshals Raylan Givens and Carl Webster star in seven books between them. And then there's 2009's Road Dogs, which boasts returning characters from three different novels...

Thursday, 18 July 2013

LaBrava by Elmore Leonard (Viking, 1984); Signed Association First Edition

NB: Featured in this week's Friday's Forgotten Books.

Here's the thing: signed Elmore Leonard books aren't exactly hard to come by these days. A cursory search on AbeBooks turns up roughly 1,500 results for signed Leonard tomes, and with the author still with us and still signing* (I think... I mean, I think he's still signing, not I think... never mind), that number is unlikely to fall. But there are certain editions of Leonard novels that, to a book collector like myself – which is to say British and unhealthily obsessed with British first editions – are more desirable with a signature than others. Like my signed copy of the British Secker & Warburg first edition of Unknown Man No. 89, for example, or my signed Viking first edition of Pronto (Raylan Givens' literary debut, as if you didn't know). And then there's this: 

LaBrava, published by Viking in 1984, the year after its US Arbor debut. Frequently cited as one of Leonard's best novels – I'll get to why in a moment – LaBrava is quite uncommon in this edition; there are only about a dozen copies for sale online at present (as opposed to well over sixty copies of the Arbor first edition), and only one of those is signed. This copy isn't just signed, however; it's inscribed:

to one Richard Rayner ("It was a pleasure!"), who, I believe, is this Richard Rayner, novelist and journalist. I have a feeling it was inscribed to Rayner when he was assistant editor at Time Out Magazine in London in the early 1980s; that would tally with the publication date. (He's since moved to America – where he writes for the Los Angeles Times, The New Yorker and others – possibly divesting himself of a number of books in the process; I acquired this one, after a bit of haggling, from Any Amount of Books on Charing Cross Road.) Perhaps if he's passing at some point he can confirm (or deny) that.

LaBrava follows Stick in the Elmore Leonard backlist; both were published in 1983 (1984 in the UK; LaBrava was originally slated to be published, like Stick, by Allen Lane, but ended up being published by another Penguin imprint, Viking, where Leonard would remain until he moved to Weidenfeld & Nicolson in 2005 with The Hot Kid) and are credited with introducing the writer to a wider audience (LaBrava won him an Edgar Award in 1984). It's easy to see why: both books boast some of Leonard's best character work, the minor players as memorable as the leads.

In the case of LaBrava, that lead is Joe LaBrava, a former Secret Service field officer (and before that IRS investigator) turned photographer living and working in South Beach, Miami, operating out of an Ocean Drive hotel owned by former bookmaker and photographer Maurice Zola. Maurice enlists LaBrava's aid in helping out an old friend of his, one-time femme fatale movie star Jean Shaw, who's being hassled by Richard Nobles, a hulking blond hillbilly rent-a-cop from the "Big Scrub" (Northern Florida) – a man who, we're told, once shot and ate an eagle. It transpires that Nobles and his Cuban partner-in-crime, car thief and part-time go-go dancer Cundo Rey, are attempting to extort money out of Jean – at least, that's how it appears; because this being an Elmore Leonard novel there are a fair few surprises in store as the narrative ebbs and winds its way to its bloody conclusion.

Throw in sundry other bit-part players – Franny Kaufman, a frizzy-haired cosmetics saleswoman (and love interest for LaBrava); Paco Boza, a seemingly wheelchair-bound but actually perfectly healthy (he just prefers to sit in a wheelchair) Cuban drug dealer; Johnbull Obasanjo, a seething, sarcastic Nigerian cab driver-cum-surveillance assistant – and you have as vivid and captivating a cast as Leonard (or any other writer for that matter) has ever committed to paper. But just as vivid is the locale; I've been to South Beach a couple of times myself (attending the Miami Winter Music Conference, in my former life as a dance music journalist), and even though it's doubtless changed a bit since the early 1980s, Leonard totally captures the feel and the atmosphere of Ocean Drive and the surrounding area: the laidback vibe of the place, the Cuban influence, the constant backdrop of the Atlantic Ocean.

Leonard settled on South Beach as the setting for LaBrava whilst scouting Miami Beach for locations for Stick; this I learned courtesy of an article by the author's researcher, Gregg Sutter, in the Winter 1986 edition of The Armchair Detective, a copy of which I quite by chance happened to acquire (thanks to the redoubtable Jamie Sturgeon) just as I was finishing reading the novel. Indeed, it turns out that LaBrava actually started life as a sequel to Stick: Joe LaBrava was originally meant to be Ernest Stickley, Jr., the eponymous star of Stick (and co-star of Swag), and even after Leonard changed his name (in part due to the movie rights to Stick being sold; Leonard has a thing about studios owning his characters, although that doesn't stop him selling film rights), LaBrava was, according to Sutter, "still basically Stick, who is from a long-standing misfit tradition that goes all the way back to The Big Bounce and [Leonard's] first contemporary lead, Jack Ryan".

Once Leonard had established more of LaBrava's background, however – Sutter providing information on the Secret Service and the IRS and putting Leonard in touch with a photographer he knew – he came into his own as a character, with, in Sutter's words, "more of a moral or sincere streak than Stick" – in the process turning into a precursor, I'd suggest, of a later Leonard creation: the aforementioned Raylan Givens, of Pronto, Riding the Rap and Justified fame. For me, one passage in particular highlights this: a scene also singled out by Sutter – one that Leonard "had been carrying around in his head for five years" – where LaBrava is sitting outside in Paco Boza's wheelchair (Paco has abandoned it for the moment) taking pictures, and encounters Cundo Rey, who grabs his (very expensive) camera. LaBrava lets Rey walk off, not saying a word, knowing that his silence will force the Cuban to turn round. Which he duly does: 

LaBrava sat in the wheelchair waiting, his curvy-brimmed Panama shading his eyes, the guy fifteen to twenty feet away, staring at him now.

"What's the matter?"

Holding the camera like he was going to take LaBrava's picture.

The guy said, "I have to ask you something."

"Go ahead."

"Can you walk?"

"Yeah, I can walk."

"There's nothing wrong with you?"

"You mean, you want to know if you took off could I catch you and beat your head on the pavement? There is no doubt in my mind."

Speaking of Cundo Rey, and despite appearances to the contrary in the novel, LaBrava isn't the end of his story: he popped up again twenty-five years later (along with a character from Riding the Rap) in Road Dogs, the belated 2009 sequel to 1996's Out of Sight. Before I get to that novel, though, and inspired both by Gregg Sutter's Armchair Detective piece and another rather special first edition I've come into possession of, I'll be taking a further detour – in truth more of a doubling back – to a book I've already blogged about: Stick.

* Obviously this post was written before Elmore Leonard died.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Out of Sight by Elmore Leonard (Viking, 1996)

NB: Featured in this week's Friday's Forgotten Books.

I guess I could've presented this next Elmore Leonard novel as part of last year's series of posts on books which begat perhaps more famous movies; I certainly had the book in question to hand back then, having bought a British first edition in Camilla's secondhand bookshop in Eastbourne not long before, and I'd seen the 1998 Steven Soderbergh flick it begat. Unfortunately, at that point, I hadn't read the novel. (Another Elmore Leonard book-to-film adaptation made it into that series instead – 1974's Mr. Majestyk.) However, I have now – as part of my ongoing Elmore Leonard readathon – so let's take a look at it:

Out of Sight, published by Viking in 1996 under what can only be described as a bloody awful dust jacket – design uncredited, possibly to spare the embarrassment of the designer. The almost-as-crappy front cover photo is credited, however, to one Colin Thomas, who should perhaps have been made aware prior to the shoot that the novel's female lead, federal marshal Karen Sisco – I assume that's her holding the shotgun – is in fact blonde. Sigh... (Mind you, Jennifer Lopez wasn't especially blonde in Soderbergh's Out of Sight movie, and Carla Gugino was decidedly brunette in the short-lived 2003 Karen Sisco TV series, so in that respect the cover photo might charitably be termed prescient.)

Shonky '90s cover design aside, in the Elmore Leonard oeuvre Out of Sight follows two of my favourites of the author's works – Pronto (1993) and Riding the Rap (1995), both of which, possibly not entirely coincidentally, also feature a US marshal (one Raylan Givens, of Justified fame); evidently the United States Marshals Service was much on Leonard's mind in the mid-1990s. But Out of Sight is only partly Karen Sisco's story; her co-star is Jack Foley, a serial bank robber who busts out of the Glades Correctional Institution in Florida at the start of the book and elects to kidnap Karen – who's outside the prison, waiting to serve a summons to an inmate – depositing both her and himself in the trunk of the car his cohort Buddy has brought along to aid his escape.

All this is set against a background of a bigger breakout by a bunch of Cubans which, I learned thanks to a fascinating 1996 New Yorker article on Elmore Leonard's researcher, Gregg Sutter (kindly sent to me by Book Glutton), Leonard based on a real life Glades prison break from 1995, when six inmates escaped via a tunnel they'd dug from the prison chapel to the other side of the perimeter fence. And it turns out Jack too is based in part on an actual person: a man Sutter interviewed who according to the article "had escaped from more prisons in Florida than anyone else", and whose ability to control his emotions during a prison break (essentially by acting: "You act cool," he told Sutter, sounding not unlike an Elmore Leonard bit-part player, "you going to be cool") Leonard responded to and applied to Jack.

That said, to my mind Jack lacks the depth of some of Leonard's other ne'er-do-wells – the introspective Ernest Stickley, Jr. from Stick, say, or the confused, conflicted Jack Ryan from The Big Bounce and especially Unknown Man No. 89. Foley is by comparison a fairly unreconstructed sort, both as a criminal and as a person, and therefore perhaps less interesting as a character. But his studied cool works a treat on Karen: their mutual attraction – infatuation, even – drives the, admittedly meandering (in typical Leonardian fashion), narrative, all the way to a climactic ill-advised Detroit home invasion where the bodies stack up and Karen draws a definite line under their curious relationship.

As would become evident over a decade later, however, Leonard wasn't quite done with his charming recidivist; inspired by George Clooney's turn as Foley in the Out of Sight film (recently picked by The Playlist as the best Elmore Leonard movie adaptation), he brought Jack back in the 2009 novel Road Dogs... although before we get to that book, a necessary detour is in order: namely Leonard's 1983 Edgar Award-winning novel LaBrava, and a very special edition thereof...

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Stick, by Elmore Leonard (Arbor House First Edition, 1983); Sequel to Swag

NB: A Friday Forgotten Book.

I noted in the previous post, on the Elmore Leonard omnibus Dutch Treat, how I've been on something of a Leonard kick of late, fuelled in part by a big haul of Leonard first (and other) editions I bought off Brighton book dealer Alan White – one of which being the aforementioned Dutch Treat. Most of the Leonard novels I've been reading have been new to me, but I've also reread a couple of the author's books I first read many years ago: Get Shorty, which was as sublime as I remembered it being, and Stick, which I obtained from Alan in a 1983 US Arbor House first edition (with a jacket design by Antler & Baldwin, Inc.).

I didn't know it when I originally read it, sometime back in the '80s or early '90s – borrowed from Beckenham Library, no doubt (probably in its 1984 UK Allen Lane edition, which used the Arbor House jacket design) – but Stick is actually a sequel of sorts to one of the three novels in Dutch Treat: 1976's Swag. Swag detailed the exploits of armed robbers Frank Ryan and Ernest Stickley, Jr., alias Stick, ending – if you'll excuse the necessary spoiler – with the pair being led away by the law (prompting Stick's parting shot – surely one of the best closing lines/payoffs in a novel – "Frank, why don't you shut the fuck up?"). Stick picks up the story seven years on, with our eponymous lead now flying solo, newly released from jail and falling in with a fellow ex-con down in Miami, tagging along on a drug money drop that goes disastrously wrong.

What's interesting, at least to me, rereading the book decades on, is how heavily Swag is referenced throughout – Stick repeatedly reflecting on his time as a, ahem, stick-up man (and before that car thief), even telling a few people about some of the scores he and Frank took down, and the four men he was forced to kill. Especially poignant if you've read Swag – and if you're aware of Leonard's history with alcohol (see also Unknown Man No. 89) – is Frank's fate, which is revealed early on, but there's a wistful feel to the novel as a whole – Stick, now in his early forties, thinking about the choices he's made and wondering what to do with the rest of his life.

Of course, this being an Elmore Leonard novel, there's also lashings of delicious dialogue, a wonderfully meandering plot – Stick somehow winds up chauffeuring for a wealthy stock market mogul, all the while trying to evade the unwanted attentions of a drug dealer and his henchmen – moments of heightened tension and a swift, violent climax. And Stick is a disarming presence in the narrative, as amiably appealing in his own way as Raylan Givens, Jack Ryan... or indeed the male lead of the next Leonard book I'll be looking at – another career criminal and jailbird who would, like Stick, be granted starring roles in two Leonard novels.