In a 1991 interview with Elmore Leonard (published in the December 2012 issue of Contrapasso Magazine and available as a PDF here), interviewer Anthony May asked the writer what he saw as the distinction between the hardback and the paperback (a subject that's long been dear to my heart). Leonard responded: "...respectability, that's all. I have always been in hardback up until I chose, twice, the more recent time in 1978 when I went to Bantam, to be in paperback simply to make more money."
In actual fact, for a while there in the '70s, Leonard could more accurately be described as a paperback writer than a hardback author. Eight of the twelve novels he published from 1969 – when he resumed his fiction writing career after nearly a decade in the advertising wilderness – until 1980 – when Arbor House became his main American publisher with City Primeval (remaining so for the next ten years) – were issued as paperback originals in the States (a handful were published into hardback in the UK): The Big Bounce (Fawcett/Gold Medal, 1969), Valdez is Coming (Fawcett/Gold Medal, 1970), Forty Lashes Less One (Bantam, 1972), Mr. Majestyk (Dell, 1974), The Hunted (Dell, 1977), The Switch (Bantam, 1978), Gunsights (Bantam, 1979), and this book:
Gold Coast, published as a paperback original by Bantam in December 1980, cover photography by the Freelance Photographers Guild. The last of Leonard's novels to be published straight to paperback in the US, it's also significant in that it signalled a shift in locale in the author's stories. Up to this point, the majority of Leonard's contemporaneously set novels (not his westerns, in other words) had centred on Detroit and the surrounding area. In Gold Coast, though, the author moved the action down to Florida, where mobster's wife Karen DiCillia learns upon the death of her husband Frank that he's left instructions to the effect that if she wants to keep hold of his money, she can never be with another man again. It's a ludicrous scenario, but Leonard is less interested in the set-up than in the resulting chaos, as Karen is beset by mob hitman Roland Crowe – who has designs on both her and her money (or rather Frank's) – and enlists the aid of ex-con Calvin Maguire in helping her escape Frank's bizarre bequest and the unwanted attentions of Roland.
In truth Maguire, rather than Karen, is the novel's real lead; he's another in the long line of Leonard felons – see also Jack Ryan (The Big Bounce/Unknown Man No. 89), Ernest Stickley, Jr. (Swag/Stick), Chili Palmer (Get Shorty/Be Cool) and Jack Foley (Out of Sight/Road Dogs) – uncertain of or unhappy with their place in the world but unwilling to knuckle under and become Average Joes. Maguire may not know quite what he wants, but Leonard makes his confusion palpable, whereas Karen remains something of an enigma throughout: opaque, her intentions unclear (despite the misleading back cover copy on the Bantam paperback). It's only in the final few pages we start to get a sense of who she really is – or rather, who she might be.
But it could be argued that the real star of the show is Roland Crowe. A hulking lascivious hillbilly cut from the same cloth as the later Richard Nobles (LaBrava, 1983), Roland is the first in what would become a family tree of Crowes, its roots extending deep beneath Leonard's backlist. Roland's brother, Elvin, and his nephew, Dale Jr., both feature in Maximum Bob (1991), while another Crowe, Earl, pops up in the first Raylan Givens novel, Pronto (1993), and Dale Jr. makes a reappearance in its sequel, Riding the Rap (1995). The Crowes even make the leap to television in the form of Dewey Crowe, a recurring thorn in the side of Raylan Givens in the Justified TV show, although quite what Dewey's relationship is to the literary Crowe clan isn't made explicit.
Anyway, stone the Crowes (arf): I do believe I've reached the final post in this (over-)extended series on Elmore Leonard. Not that there won't be more from Mr. Leonard on Existential Ennui in the near future; I've further splendid first editions to blog about, and I'll be keeping an eye out for updates on Leonard's well-being (he was recently hospitalised following a stroke). But there'll be posts on other authors and books besides, starting with a Westlake Score...