I have been reading (and now re-reading) Elmore Leonard for decades and I plan to do the same, if I’m lucky, for at least another decade or two. Leonard, who is now 86 years old, shows little sign of slowing down or losing his momentum. In fact, if the television series Justified is any indication, his work is as popular as ever. Considering that almost 20 of his books have been made into Hollywood movies, and another half-dozen or so into television movies or series, that is saying something.
52 Pick-Up, first published in 1974, is one of Leonard’s earlier novels – and, despite being set in a Detroit that is almost unrecognizable today, it still holds up well. Leonard has always been one of the great masters of realistic dialogue, and dialogue is one of this novel’s strong suits. Leonard’s dialogue is special because he captures more than just cadence and accent. After a few pages of a Leonard novel, the reader begins to hear each character as a unique and recognizable voice that exposes as much about itself in speech as it does by its actions.
Our 52 Pick-Up hero, Harry Mitchell, is a happily married Detroit businessman who seems to have everything going for him – until he makes one fatal mistake and falls in love with a woman he meets in a bar. Harry is a full-speed-ahead kind of guy, and before long he is spending most of his spare time at the apartment he rents for the second woman in his life. When blackmailers threaten to expose Harry’s affair to his wife, he refuses to play their game, preferring to confess to his wife and directly confront his tormentors. And then the blackmailers up the ante with a homicide, and it’s game on. Sometimes it is just not easy to be a blackmailer.
52 Pick-Up is not one of Elmore Leonard’s better known novels (those would have to be the ones that were turned into bigger movies or series such as Hombre, Mr. Majestyk, Get Shorty, Jackie Brown (Rum Punch), and the current Justified, but it is one that Leonard fans are sure to enjoy. These early Leonard works may be a little more difficult to find sometimes, but the extra effort is worth it.
Rated at: 4.0