Thursday, October 10, 2013

[Books] Book Look: Freaky Deaky, by Elmore Leonard

Book Look: Freaky Deaky, by Elmore Leonard: There is probably nothing left original to say about the late Elmore Leonard. Actually that's not true. If you say he sucked, then you would be completely original.

A bit surprisingly, this was my first Leonard book ever. Still, I knew exactly what to expect, from the locomotive pace to the somewhat cliched characters, all of whom are on the make and never at a loss for sharp words.

I chose Freaky Deaky because it is set in and around Southeast Michigan. The bulk of it happens in Detroit, but there are references to locales out in the suburbs and as far as Ann Arbor. But I suspect I could have chosen any Elmore Leonard and gotten pretty much the same thing.

The case involves a bombing as part of a blackmail scheme hatched by a pair of former '60s rebels. Their chosen victim is the guy who ratted on them long ago and got them locked up, so it's about revenge. Except the victim is now enormously wealthy and it's really the money they are after. In fact, the veneer of justified revenge is so thin, they can't help but admit they clearly zeroed in on the easy money. They even joke about how their noble protests of years ago weren't really about anything but making trouble for trouble's sake. The problem is that their target is protected by a former Black Panther, who also doubles as chauffeur and nursemaid, who has crossed paths with them before and has his own designs on the target's fortune. Into this mix comes a burned out cop who gets involved in the situation and gets suspended for it so his last chance is to catch the crooks to save his career.

Crosses and double-crosses ensue. Truths and half-truths, omissions and lies, keep all the characters spinning. And of course the brilliance of Leonard the finish, where everything resolves and this flawless gordian knot untangles.

I think for a while, Leonard will be my go-to for escapist stories. A position previously held by by a long line of mystery writers from Qiu Xiaolong (Chief Inspector Chen) back to John MacDonald (Travis McGee). Although still a genre writer, Leonard seems to be a cut above the rest. He gets pantheon-level marks for tone and atmosphere. Should you read Freaky Deaky? Unqualified Yup. To quote George Will: "Here's what you do, read the first chapter of Freaky Deaky. It won't take long, about ten minutes. Don't worry, the store owner won't mind, because you will then buy the book." Again, Yup.