Friday, 12 February 2016
Glitz by Elmore Leonard (Viking, 1985)
Glitz (1985) was Elmore Leonard's first major bestseller – "the book that put him over the top", as Leonard's researcher Gregg Sutter put it in an article in the spring 1986 issue of The Armchair Detective ("Advance Man: Researching Elmore Leonard's Novels Part 2"). Leonard had had successful novels before, and especially so as his career entered its fourth decade in the 1980s – John Williams, in his 1991 examination of crime fiction and America, Into the Badlands, notes that "Stick ... was the first of his books to hit really big" – but the rapturous reception the writer's twenty-third novel received was of a different order altogether: the American first edition reprinted half a dozen times, no doubt helped along by a glowing review in the New York Times by Stephen King ("Glitz may be the best crime novel of the year").
Why Glitz should have been quite so successful I'm not really sure. It's a good Elmore Leonard novel – which is to say it's by definition a cut above much other crime fiction – but he'd written better ones before: LaBrava (1983), Split Images (1981), City Primeval (1980), Unknown Man No. 89 (1977), others besides. (I would include the brilliant Touch, which I read – and loved – last year, but though written in the 1970s, that one wasn't actually published until 1987.) Maybe it was the surface glamour of the thing, from its title to its choice of locales – sunny Puerto Rico and the bright shiny lights of Atlantic City's casinos, a far cry from the urban grit of Leonard's Detroit stories and his laconically sun-drenched but still low rent Florida tales.
Certainly the story is in keeping with previous novels, taking the form of a meandering but deadly game of cat-and-mouse between a typically deranged criminal, in this instance loathsome rapist and murderer Teddy Magyk, and a male lead, convalescing (after a shooting incident) Miami cop Vincent Mora, who's cut from the same cloth as prior Leonard protagonists like Bryan Hurd (Split Images) and Raymond Cruz (City Primeval). Except that Vincent can lay claim to a rather different heritage: he was originally written as a role for actor Sidney Poitier.
As Gregg Sutter explains in his article, Glitz actually began life as a script for a sequel to Poitier's 1967 film In the Heat of the Night. Leonard was hired to work on Shaft author Ernest Tidyman's initial treatment, which had been deemed "too much like the original book and movie", but as the screenplay developed, the notion of the film being a sequel was dropped and Poitier's character became first a Philadelphia cop "drawn into conflict with people in high places", then either an "Atlantic City cop" or "a homicide investigator for Atlantic County", and finally "Vincent Mora, a retired Detroit cop living in San Juan, Puerto Rico". At which point, Poitier realised "the movie was turning into a book", and told Leonard to "Go write a book". Which Leonard did.
None of which, I realise, explains why Glitz became such a huge bestseller, but it's an interesting bit of backstory at least.
The copy of Glitz pictured in this post is a 1985 British Viking first edition of the book – as opposed to the 1985 American Arbor House first edition – which I picked up in Colin Page Antiquarian Books in Brighton last year for a fiver. It was part of a big collection of crime fiction the bookshop had only just bought in and put on the shelves – as mentioned in this Patricia Highsmith post in September – and which also included a British first edition of Elmore Leonard's next novel, which I also bought for a fiver – a novel which like Glitz started life as an idea for a film: Bandits (1987).
NB: Proffered for this Friday's Forgotten Books roundup.