Sad news today, author Elmore Leonard died this morning of complications from a stroke. The news first broke on his official Facebook page, which is run by his researcher Gregg Sutter. He was 87 years old.
Those who have been reading this blog for a while know that Mr. Leonard is one of my favorite authors. In fact, Elmore Leonard and the late Donald E. Westlake are my all-time favorite authors (Mr. Westlake passed away in 2008). Some of my favorite movies — Get Shorty, Jackie Brown, and Out of Sight — were based on his books, as is Justified, one of the best shows on TV.
Beyond just writing great books (as if if that wasn’t enough), Elmore Leonard is the reason I read — and write* — crime fiction. Once upon a time, I mostly read spy novels and military techno-thrillers. Sometime in the early 90s, I got tired of that and gave up reading fiction. Yup, you read that right. For the better part of a decade, I was one of those guys who said “I don’t read fiction” (emphasis on that last word to emphasize douche-y air of superiority).
Fast forward to 2002. The 9/11 attacks had happened a few months earlier. As a member of the Air National Guard, I was mobilized and deployed… to Florida. Yeah, go figure. Anyway, I was down there working on the homeland defense mission. I had a pretty cushy existence compared to folks who were getting sent of Afghanistan. A room to myself. A rental car. And a beautiful schedule that had me working 12 hour shifts, 3 days on, 3 off. Lots of time off to enjoy the Sunshine State.
The problem is that I was alone. I was an augmentee in an existing unit. Oh, I worked with people every day, but they were all permanently stationed there. At the end of the duty day, they all went home to their families. I went back to my room. So I spent a lot of my time watching movies. But you can only watch so many movies. And I had to eat out a lot. Eating out alone bores the hell out of me. Unless I have something to read. So I decided to return to reading fiction.
Going back to techno-thrillers didn’t appeal to me. I got enough of the military at work. So I gave crime fiction a try. And what better crime fiction author to read than the man who inspired some of my favorite movies. So I went to the library and checked out Killshot, by Elmore Leonard. I chose that title because it hadn’t (at that time) been the basis for a movie. I wanted to read something I wouldn’t be comparing to a movie.
Long story short, I loved it. I followed up with Freaky Deaky (my personal favorite), Pagan Babies, Get Shorty, and Riding the Rap (the second Raylan Givens novel). I’ve since read many more. I haven’t read all of his novels yet, but I plan to.
Thank you, Mr. Leonard, for the entertainment you have brought to millions of people. You will be missed.
*I know, some of you are scratching your heads and saying, “Writing, he writes crime fiction? First I heard o’ that.” Others among you are scratching your heads and saying, “Yeah, he did used to write. What happened?” All I can say is that after an extended period of laziness, I have been busy writing me some crime fiction. In fact, I’ve been pretty busy in August. More on that tomorrow.