Hearing of Elmore Leonard’s death this morning is another reminder of just how short life is – and how the older one gets, the quicker time seems to scream past. Admittedly, the man’s output slowed down a bit when he reached his eighties, and some would argue that his best work was long behind him, but few could argue that Elmore Leonard was still a player, a solid presence, in the world of books, film, and television.
I have been reading Elmore Leonard since the mid-seventies when 52 Pick-Up caught my eye in a little used-book store. The dialogue in that book, and in every other Elmore Leonard novel I have ever read, was so realistic that I continued to jump on every new title of his I came across. He became part of my small group of “go-to” authors; writers I trusted never to let me down no matter what direction their writing might take. Sure, I enjoyed some Elmore Leonard books more than others, but I never felt cheated by one of them.
For years, I thought of Elmore Leonard as a paperback writer because I was fast accumulating a closet full of his novels in that format. That image didn’t change for me until Leonard finally hit the national consciousness and his hardback titles began to sell in numbers equal to what he had been selling in the cheaper format. I suppose, deep down, he will always be one of my paperback guys – those writers I could buy cheap during the years I could only dream of spending hardback money on anyone no matter how much I admired their writing.
But the two Elmore Leonard books I most prize today both turned out to be hardcovers. One is called Dutch Treat and includes three relatively early novels of Leonard’s: The Hunted, Swag, and Mr. Majestyk. The other is a self-explanatorily titled book called The Complete Western Stories of Elmore Leonard. There are thirty stories in the collection, the earliest of which were written at a time Leonard was selling his stories at the rate of two cents a word and netted him about $100 each. One of the best things about the collection is that the endpapers are illustrated by the covers of all the 1950s magazines that published the stories, magazines such as: Argosy, The Saturday Evening Post, Western Story, Zane Grey’s Western, Dime Western, and Ten Story Western Magazine.
As happens when one grows older, I am fast losing all the heroes and positive influences of my youth. Elmore “Dutch” Leonard was among those who made my short list and, while I will miss the anticipation of what he will write next, he will live on in my memory – and the lifetime of superb work he left behind will keep him alive forever.
Thanks, “Dutch,” for the memories.