Elmore Leonard died today. No doubt, by the time you’re reading this, he’s been dead for a little while. It came as a bit of a shock to me. It shouldn’t have. After all, he was 87 years old. I don’t know why I was surprised except that maybe someone as talented as he was seems eternal.
I’ve always loved Leonard’s work even before I knew that he was writing it. I loved the movies he wrote as well. I’ve never been much of a fan of the Western, but I’ve read all of his. 3:10 to Yuma is my favorite western movie, up there with The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.
No one wrote about the pettiness of evil the way that he did. He captured it so incredibly well. And the evil he wrote about was the everyday kind of evil that so many of us struggle with all the time. He captured those moments when the wrong thing seems to be the easy way out, and how devastating making the wrong choice can be.
Most of us have had those moments when we could take a little thrill or a little money by doing some evil little that seemed innocuous. Think back to when you were in your twenties or teens. You probably had hundreds of those moments. I did. He reminds me every time how good it was that I didn’t make those kinds of mistakes. No one wrote about stupid people and stupid moments better than he did.
My favorite novel of his is The Big Bounce, where a thrill seeker makes his life worse and worse by chasing thrills. I don’t know if anyone else loves that novel as much as I do, but the people he follows are so interesting because they are so real. They’re funny, even when they commit crimes and hurt each other. They’re the people I went to high school with, being dopey and getting into trouble. The only difference is that they’re old enough that there are consequences to their mistakes.
Elmore Leonard is a big part of the reason that I got into writing crime novels. My style is not like his, but no one’s style is. He was a true genius and a true artist, and I will miss him.