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.


  1. Must admit this one pretty much passed me by - even though I liked OUT OF SIGHT a lot (book and movie) but then it's been a while since I read a new Leonard - great review though Nick, cheers.

  2. Great review. I actually have a signed first American edition of this book that was sent to me by Elmore himself.

    Back in '09, I think it was, I created a Facebook Group called Elmore Leonard and it attracted a few thousand followers. I soon got a message from Gregg Sutter saying he was Elmores researcher and they would be setting up an official profile and could I change the name of the group?
    Unfortunately, back then anyway, it wasn't possible to change the name so I asked if I could get a copy of Elmores new book signed by him, note that at the time it wasn't out in the UK just yet, and I in return I would delete the group.

    And so I did: