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...