Outstreched arm

Thursday, June 02, 2005

'The Hot Kid' by Elmore Leonard

My friend Tom originally introduced me to Elmore Leonard - well, I should say that my first sight of his hyper-real pulp was back in Croatia, in what I still believe was a horrible (possibly pointless?) translation of the uber-cool Leonard dialogue in some artsy magazine. This week, Tom sent me an article about Leonard's new book, The Hot Kid, and the author called it Leonard's best yet.

Well now, Dutch's writing has been rather bland lately, so I was looking forward to a comeback as much as anyone else, but I was also skeptical. And rightly so, it seems. The Hot Kid is a fun novel, and most of the blurby cliches about Leonard hold true about it: you won't be able to put it down! He's a crime writer like no other! That's all fine and dandy, but the two most awesome things about Leonard are lacking in this book; and by lacking I mean, they're nowhere to be found, and if you're a fan, you'll look. The two things in question are bullet-hard dialogue and fascinating, fully fleshed-out characters.

The former is a fault of the design; the book takes place in the roaring Twenties. Cute and cool, but even if Leonard could somehow tune into the spirit of the time (did the expression "quickie" exist back then?), I'm having a hard time making the transition myself, especially when the historic figures of the time - Amelia Earhart, John Dillinger, Bonnie & Clyde - are really described as the same faceless, abstract celebrities - no, ideas - we imagine them as today. I understand that this might be exactly how they were seen back then, but it just doesn't help me not see all the relevant characters are relics as well. But that's not the only problem with both the hero and the villains; simply put, neither side is very memorable. Carlos, the titular Hot Kid shows promise at first, but quickly becomes perhaps too multidimensional for the reader to care anymore. And the villains - whatever, daddy-o.

The bits of trivia peppered about the pages show that the writer did his research, and didn't quite know how to blend it smoothly with the plot. Example:

Well, in any action you had to expect taking casualties. At the Somme in 1916, during the Great War, the British expeditionary Force lost 58,000 men in one day. Second battle of the Marne, 12,000 American boys were killed during the assault. Hell, from July to November the British counted 310,000 casualties trying to take Passchendaele during the Ypres offensive, and the town wasn't even that important.

All this inside a minor character's head - c'mon, give me a break.

If you're looking to see what Leonard can really do, get Maximum Bob, Rum Punch, Out of Sight, or Gold Coast. And FYI, Jackie Brown was the best adaptation of his style - Get Shorty got it all wrong.

Buy The Hot Kid via Froogle if you really really like Elmore...

Note: The Online Etymology Dictionary says that the word "quickie" dates back to the 1940s.

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