Elmore Leonard

"Mr. Paradise"

(reviewed by Cindy Lynn Speer APR 04, 2004)

"You know what you're gonna see, Mr. Paradise and your friend Kelly sitting there dead."
She said, "I'm Kelly," reacting, not thinking.
And Montez said, "Uh-unh, you're Chloe."

It was Mr. Paradisio's favorite form of entertainment... his mistress, Chloe, would get a girl to join her in dancing a few risqué cheers topless while he watched a taped University of Michigan game. The girl who usually does it is out of town, so she convinces her roommate and best friend Kelly, an undergarment model, to take her place. Kelly can't that night..., but she agrees to help her out the next night. Though, when she does she refuses to take off her panties or remove the oversized University of Michigan sweatshirt.

Read excerpt"Mr. Paradise," as he's known, doesn't seem to listen to her protestations. In a move designed to prove to his right-hand man Montez Taylor that there are no hard feelings after an argument they had (--well, no hard feeling on on Mr. Paradise's side... for years he promised Montez that upon his death, which seems much likely sooner than later since the gent's in his eighties, that Montez would inherit the house. Now grand daughter, Allegra wants it... and she'll get it. Nor does Montez believe that his boss's son will see that he's taken care of, and so Montez is pretty ticked...how ticked, you'll soon see --) he says that he'll flip a coin... and that will determine which girl he gets to take upstairs and have sex with. Kelly, of course, gets the toss. She goes upstairs to get her things and split, not upset, really, at Montez's strong insistance that he get Chloe instead.

A few moments later Mr. Paradise and Chloe are dead, and Montez insists that Kelly pretend to be Chloe to the police, or she'll be next. Kelly agrees, knowing she'll only have to keep it up until Montez can claim the valuables he kept on his boss' behalf for Chloe, which she needs to sign over to him. Unfortunately, neither counted on detective Frank Delsa, for either his determination or his obsession with this beautiful...and obviously not the woman she's pretending to be...witness.

I went into a lot of the story because this is one complicated book...like all Leonard books, there are many layers, complicated plot upon complicated plot, fueled by his sparse, snappy style and eclectic characters. Two of his funniest characters are the hitmen assigned to the task: they have to be among the dumbest people on the face of the earth, and it's only thanks to their sleazy lawyer who acts as their agent that they're not rotting away in jail. It's easy to be amazed at the deft way Leonard manages to keep all the storylines flowing smoothly, keeping everything moving in a quick, easy to read style. To me, Leonard is one of the most easily recognizable voices out there. His style, his writing, has a great edge to it that no one else can copy.

You have to feel bad for Frank. He's a genuinely nice guy, who feels the loneliness of his wife's death (over a year ago) and who has a ton of cases that all beg to be solved now, including the murder of three drug dealers in their basement apartment. He has top deal with Tony Jr, Mr. Paradise's son, and Chloe/Kelly, who dribbles out information while falling for him. The feeling's becoming mutual on Frank's part, but it might not be enough...between lying to the police, being someone she isn't (while strenuously objecting to the idea that she was ever a hooker) and trying to stay alive, she's got plenty of problems. And for both of them, things will keep getting worse.

This is a very strong read that is part comedy (not laugh out loud, but pleasant) part romance and part adventure.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 79 reviews

Read a chapter excerpt from Mr. Paradise at MostlyFiction.com

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"Tishomingo Blues"

(Reviewed by Chuck Barksdale FEB 10, 2003)

"Dennis Lenahan the high diver would tell people that if you put a fifty-cent piece on the floor and looked down at it, that's what the tank looked like from the top of the eighty-foot steel ladder. The tank itself was twenty-two feet across and the water in it never more than nine feet deep. Dennis said from that high up you want to come out of your dive to enter the water feet first, your hands at the last moment protecting your privates and your butt squeezed tight, or it was like getting a 40,000 gallon enema."

Tishomingo Blues is another great book by Elmore Leonard filled with memorable characters, unexpected twists, and funny, often hilarious scenes. Typical Leonard characteristics are included -- a mixture of cool and bumbling characters representing tough guys, drug dealers and sexy women.

Read excerptDennis Lenahan (cool) convinces Billy Darwin (generally cool), the manager of Tishomingo Lodge and Casino in Tunica, Mississippi, to allow him to set up a high diving daredevil show outside of the casino. While setting up the ladder, Lenahan witnesses the murder of Floyd Showers, a rigger who helped set up the high dive. Floyd apparently was shot by members of the Dixie Mafia (all bumblers). Charlie Hoke, the casino celebrity host and former major league baseball pitcher who originally hired Showers, tells Dennis to not let on that he witnessed the shooting to avoid unnecessary confrontations with the Dixie Mafia, especially Arlen Novis, the apparent head and one of the two people responsible for the shooting of Floyd Showers.

Shortly after the shooting, Dennis meets Robert Taylor who is staying at the Tishomingo Lodge. Lenahan finds Taylor, probably the coolest person in the book, difficult to figure out at first. Taylor enjoys playing with the minds of everyone he meets, but he clearly enjoys Lenahan and what Lenahan does for a living. Ultimately, Taylor lets Dennis know that he is a drug dealer from Detroit who wants to take over the Mississippi drug traffic from the Dixie Mafia.

Taylor brings his boss, Geramano Mularoni, a not overly bright, but strong Detroit gangster to the casino to help in the takeover. Mularoni poses as a high roller and brings his sexy wife Anne, Taylor's secret lover. Eventually, Taylor brings a few other associates (all cool) to help him accomplish the takeover.

Taylor and his friends and associates, including Dennis Lenahan, agree to participate in the local civil war reenactment. The locals take the reenactment very seriously and expect others to take it serious as well. During the reenactment, Lenahan gets demoted to a Private for abandoning his post to meet with a married woman by John Rau, a Union Colonel and the local investigator of the Showers murder. The scenes during the reenactment are some of the best in the book and it is here where the violent resolution of the drug leaders takes place.

I found myself enjoying the humor of this book from the beginning even when it was not obvious that Leonard was being humorous. His style appears effortless as he tells his story and it's only after careful examination that you can pick up the subtle humor. Of course, some areas are clearly intended to be humorous especially during exchanges between the cool Robert Taylor and members of the local Dixie Mafia.

Charlie Hoke, the former baseball player, is probably the most annoying person in the book and his character really has too much of a presence. His constant attempts to bring himself and his baseball experience into everything is just done too many times (even for me a big baseball fan). He is somewhat humorous the first few times, but by the end you are hoping one of the stray bullets knocks him out of action. This is really my only complaint with this book.

I've now read five books by Elmore Leonard and this was one of the best. I've found Leonard's books to be a little uneven at times, but Tishomingo Blues was enjoyable from the beginning to the end.

Leonard is not for everyone. His humor is often dark and his main characters are often criminals who become violent at times. If you've never read him, but saw the movie version of Get Shorty, then you should be able to know if you like Leonard. (On his website, Leonard says, "Get Shorty was the first film that 'got it.' It demonstrated that you could deliver 'funny' lines in a movie without reaction, without the character knowing he or she was being funny. It really worked.") If you don't think Get Shorty is one of the funniest movies ever (as I do), then pass on this book. If you enjoyed the movie and were not offended by the violence and language, then you'll enjoy Elmore Leonard and this book.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 66 reviews

Read a chapter excerpt from Tishomingo Blues at MostlyFiction.com

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"Maximum Bob"

(Reviewed by Judi Clark MAR 15, 1998)

There is not a single Elmore Leonard novel that I've read that didn't have me in stitches; I've read a lot of his novels, but still not nearly half of his books.

The movie Get Shorty called my attention to this writer.  When I went to see the movie there was a fire in the theater and we had to leave before the ending. I hate not getting to the end.  Coincidentally, the next day I found the book of the same title in a used bookstore. (I wasn't even looking for it, honest!)  Thanks to this first book, I started to pick up an Elmore Leonard, on every stop down the Intracoastal Waterway, since every used bookstore or book swap usually had yet another book I hadn't yet read.  

I mention Maximum Bob  here because it happened to be the one in my possession when we moved off the boat and back to New Hampshire. It was immediately passed around by my entire family and everyone has enjoyed it. And if you saw the quirky series with the same name, it's true, that was based on this book. Rather than me trying to give a review of the book, let me just use the book synopsis here:

"Enter the world of Elmore Leonard. The setting is Palm Beach County, Florida, where someone places a live ten-foot alligator in the backyard of the bigoted, redneck judge Bob Gibbs--known to all as Maximum Bob--and his wife, Leanne, a former Weeki Wachee mermaid. Not long after that, shots are fired into the judge's house. It doesn't take much figuring to conclude that someone's out to get him and that malefactor isn't going to stop at the second try. There's a long list of suspects: Dale Crowe, who just got an outrageous sentence for a minor crime; his uncle Elvin, a killer on parole, raring to go again; Dr. Tommy Vasco, the drugged out former medical doctor; his equally bizarre friend, Hector; and Dicky Campau, who makes a living poaching alligators. And there are others.

Somehow Kathy Baker, a nifty young probation officer, has got herself in the middle of all this. She's got to avoid two seducers--the judge and a homicidal maniac--and work with a young police officer who interests her for more than professional reasons. Trying to pick out from his assortment of bad guys, sociopaths, and punks the one who's trying to kill the judge is pure entertainment, as only Elmore Leonard, with his ear for the sound and eye for the sight of lowlife, can provide."

On more comment on Elmore Leonard's books. They don't garner five star reviews. They are simply enjoyable -- though he never writes the same plot twice, you know what to expect out of his novels. Another thing is, it simply does not matter how long ago he wrote a novel, they don't ever feel out of date - the plot twists and double-crosses and the characters always feel current. Sort of how Shakespeare's characters and plots still resonate, Leonard seems to find the same universal truth albeit it does tend to be on the slimy side of human nature.

  • Amazon reader rating: from 35 reviews
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"The Big Bounce"

(Reviewed by Cindy Lynn Speer JAN 25, 2004)

"The idea had come to her suddenly right after seeing him at the migrant camp. The idea was wild, so far out she had only smiled at first, thinking of what it would do to Ray Ritchie. But the more she thought of the idea, the more she liked it. It was fantastic, way out, and beyond anything she had done before. The trouble was, the whole thing would depend on Ryan...If he didn't have a reason to stay, she might have to give him one. Which shouldn't be too hard. Then play with him to see what he was really like. But the whole deal, staying and going along with her idea, both, depended really on how much nerve he had.

Which she would have to find out."

Starting out with your protagonist beating up on some gent with a baseball bat is not the best way to meet the man you're about to spend the next several hundred pages with, but that's how we meet Jack Ryan, a man who once dreamed of being a Major League baseball player, who now makes his living through a combination of migrant work and thievery. Nancy is the big boss's mistress, a bored, spoiled woman looking for "the big bounce," that one be all end all thrill that will make her feel alive. So far throwing rocks and shooting through windows...without regard to whether people are behind them or not...is just not cutting it. Her crazy idea, as mentioned in the quote above, will take a lot of nerve, as Jack tries to figure out why he's with this absolutely mad woman.

It's a strange little story, filled with the razor sharp characterization Leonard is known for. Razor sharp indeed...his characters are not always likable, but they are interesting. Though there are a lot of things that happen, there isn't a real main plot that acts as the focus of the characters actions, making this much more of an exploration of Nancy's personality: why she's like this, what a person like this will do out of this perverse drive she has, as well as a study of the undeniably strong attraction that Jack, who is really sensible and pragmatic, has for her. One of the minor characters sees him and, in her minor state of crush, describes him as a bullfighter. This description is more apt than she can ever know, for he does risk his very life in a dance with a bull who can go from being pleasant to psychotic in a few seconds. Even he doesn't really know why he's so interested in her, and the exploration of his character, the choices he makes in order to be with her, and his realizations about their rather twisted relationship are a showcase of how strong a writer Elmore Leonard is. There are very few people who could have pulled this type of story off and still make it so incredibly readable.

There is, as I said, some action. For instance, Nancy's lover isn't exactly thrilled with Jack's being around, and is willing to kill him to make his point. Also, Jack decides to go back to his thieving ways...a choice that will have an interesting impact on his relationship with Nancy.

This book is a reprint of the original 1969 novel. It is also a book that was made into a movie starring Ryan O'Neil in that same year...and has just been made into another movie, starring Owen Wilson and Morgan Freeman. I guess I'm not the only one intrigued by the quirky and intricate characters.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 26 reviews

Read a chapter excerpt from The Big Bounce at MostlyFiction.com

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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)


Historical Capers:

Crime Capers:

*Chili Palmer

Children's Books:


Movies from books:


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Book Marks:


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About the Author:

Elmore LeonardElmore Leonard has five children and nine grandchildren. He and his wife, Christine, live in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit.

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