Elmore Leonard, crime novelist was 87

elmoreatdesk.jpgElmore Leonard died this morning at home in Bloomfield Village, Michigan of complications from a stroke about three weeks ago. His death was announced at ElmoreLeonard.com. He was a Detroit advertising agency copywriter when he began to moonlight by writing western short stories for pulp magazines. He went on to be recognized as a master of the crime novel, a winner of the Edgar award, and his work frequently was taken on by Hollywood. Among the movies based on his books were "Get Shorty," "Jackie Brown," "The Big Bounce," "Out of Sight" and "Hombre." Time magazine once called Elmore the Dickens of Detroit. From the New York Times obit, which calls Leonard "a modern master of American genre writing:"

To his admiring peers, Mr. Leonard did not merely validate the popular crime thriller; he stripped the form of its worn-out affectations, reinventing it for a new generation and elevating it to a higher literary shelf.


Reviewing “Riding the Rap” for The New York Times Book Review in 1995, Martin Amis cited Mr. Leonard’s “gifts — of ear and eye, of timing and phrasing — that even the most indolent and snobbish masters of the mainstream must vigorously covet.” As the American chapter of PEN noted, when honoring Mr. Leonard with its Lifetime Achievement award in 2009, his books “are not only classics of the crime genre, but some of the best writing of the last half-century.”

Mr. Leonard’s first story was published in Argosy magazine in 1951, and 60 years later he was still turning out a book a year because, he said, “It’s fun.”

It was in that spirit that Mr. Leonard, at 84, took more than a casual interest in the development of one of his short stories, “Fire in the Hole,” for television. “Justified,” as the FX series was called, won a Peabody Award in 2011 in its second season and sent new fans to “Pronto” (1993) and “Riding the Rap” (1995), two novels that feature the series’s hero, Raylan Givens (played by Timothy Olyphant), a federal marshal from Harlan County, Ky., who presents himself as a good ol’ country boy but is “not as dumb as you’d like to believe.”

Approving of the way the show was working out, Mr. Leonard wrote his 45th novel, “Raylan,” with the television series in mind. Published in 2012, it featured three strong female villains and gave its cowboy hero license to shoot one of them.

From Dennis McLellan's Leonard obituary on the LA Times website, which calls Leonard "one of America's greatest crime novelists and one of Hollywood's favorite storytellers."

With his lean, hard prose infused with unflinching realism, mordant humor, moral ambivalence and what one critic called "a seemingly inexhaustible cast of sleazeballs, scam artists and out-and-out psychopaths," Leonard turned out dozens of best-selling crime novels that transcended their genre.


Frequently set in Detroit or South Florida, they showcased Leonard's flair for writing pitch-perfect dialogue....

In reviewing one of Leonard's books, British novelist Martin Amis once wrote: "Elmore Leonard is a literary genius who writes re-readable thrillers. [He] possesses gifts — of ear and eye, of timing and phrasing — that even the most indolent and snobbish masters of the mainstream must vigorously covet."

The Michigan author scored more than his share of fans in Hollywood, where most of his novels were optioned or bought for films.

"You have to put him up there with the greats, like Jim Thompson and James M. Cain," screenwriter Robert Towne told the Los Angeles Times in 1995. "His stories have an economy of language that gives his dramatic situations an incredible sense of ballast and gravity."

Gregg Sutter, who lives here, was Leonard's researcher for more than 30 years. His girlfriend, advice blogger Amy Alkon, writes today that "He took big bites out of life every day of his life for 87 years, and died in his sunny writer's room, surrounded by his family, who loved him."

Photo from ElmoreLeonard.com


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