R.I.P. Elmore Leonard

Having suffered a stroke earlier in the month, author Elmore Leonard died at his home in Detroit, Michigan on Tuesday morning aged 87. Ever prolific, Leonard had begun work on the 46th novel of his 60 year career at the time of his hospitalisation.

Starting out as an author of westerns while still in his 20s and working full-time in an advertising agency, Leonard quit his day job after penning five novels in the genre and a series of short stories, two of which – “Three-Ten To Yuma” and “The Captives” – had been adapted into Hollywood films in 1957. Following the 1961 publication of Hombre (itself later adapted as a 1967 Paul Newman vehicle), Leonard took an eight year break from novel writing, the decline in popularity of the western as a genre seeing him reinvent himself with the 1969 publication of The Big Bounce, a sharp crime caper that set the tone for his subsequent career. Over the next 40-some years, he repeatedly proved himself a master of the genre, one of the great American crime writers of the second half of the 20th century and more than capable of holding his own against the hallowed likes of Raymond Chandler and James M. Cain.

As evidenced from his early success in that arena, Leonard’s novels also proved particularly suitable for cinematic adaptation, with films of the likes of Mr. Majestyk and 52 Pick-Up peppered throughout the 70s and 80s but really coming into vogue in the mid-90s when a steady stream of his work appeared on screens big and small: Get Shorty, Rum PunchOut of Sight, Be Cool, Touch, Killshot and Freaky Deaky (along with another adaptation of “Three-Ten to Yuma”) have all made it to cinemas with, it must be said, varying degrees of success, whilst Out of Sight and his series of novels about deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens spawned the TV shows Karen Sisco and Justified, respectively. Leonard’s final completed novel was 2012’s Raylan, a new Givens story inspired in part by the critical and popular success of Justified.

Throughout his storied career, Leonard earned honours including the 1992 Grand Master Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America, the 2008 F. Scott Fitzgerald Literary Award for outstanding achievement in American literature and the 2012 Medal for Distinguished Contribution (lifetime achievement prize) of the National Book Awards. Though 87 years and 45 novels is a fine run by anyone’s standards, it’s still hard to accept there won’t be more.


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