Say the name Elmore Leonard
to a crime aficionado and watch his/her face break into an involuntary smile. Writers as diverse as Martin Amis
and George Will
count themselves as fans, along with at least two generations of crime writers and filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino
Leonard's books have been adapted to countless films, the best of which surfaced in the past fifteen years: Barry Sonnenfeld's Get Shorty, Tarantino's Jackie Brown (based on Leonard's book Rum Punch), and Steven Soderbergh's Out of Sight, starring George Clooney as Jack Foley, who has knocked over more banks than he can count.
At the age of 83, Leonard has just published his 43rd novel. Road Dogs reunites two of Leonard's most distinctive characters — Jack Foley, the bank robber from Out of Sight (just try not picturing Clooney as you read) and Cundo Rey from LaBrava — as prison inmates who develop an unlikely friendship. After Rey connects Foley with an attorney who gets his sentence reduced from 30 years to 30 months, the lifelong bank robber heads to Venice to await Rey's release and keep an eye on Dawn Navarro, the sexy psychic who last appeared in Riding the Rap and is now Rey's wife.
The complications that arise are vintage Leonard, consisting of double- and triple-crosses, uncertain allegiances, and, of course, the Elmore Leonard dialogue that goes down as smooth and warm as a glass of aged Scotch.
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Chris Bolton: What made you want to bring back these characters from Out of Sight and LaBrava, and put them together?
Elmore Leonard: Well, I like them a lot. And I knew that they could talk. That's the main thing, that they would have things to say. I wasn't sure about Cundo Rey — I wasn't sure if he was still alive. So I looked it up in LaBrava, and saw that he was shot three times by Joe LaBrava. But Joe LaBrava went on his way, and it doesn't say that Cundo's dead. You assume in that book that he is, but I have the medical guys come and say, "Hey, this one's still alive." They take him to the hospital and he's there for 30 days or so, pretending to be in a coma while he finds out what's going on. Finally he gets out, and goes to the West Coast and is successful as a drug salesman for a while. Buys a couple of houses, so that he has those houses and a place to live. And his girlfriend now, Dawn Navarro, the psychic, is in one of the houses. So you assume, okay, then she's gonna meet Foley and something's going to happen. And that's the book, really. But it turns out that Cundo Rey and Foley are friends. Cundo likes him, he's not going to try and use him for anything. So I was happy about that. I had fun with the three characters — and added a few more, of course.
Bolton: It's interesting that you had to go back to LaBrava to see if Cundo was alive. Did Cundo just randomly pop into your head?
Leonard: Well, I liked him. I remembered him and I thought, Gee, I don't think I did enough with Cundo in that particular book. So I brought him back to life and used him. Because he's a good guy, I mean, he's an interesting character for me. And I had fun with him.
Bolton: You also have Dawn Navarro from Riding the Rap.
Leonard: Uh-huh. And you don't know if she's good or bad. In fact, you don't know if she's really psychic or not. I was never sure, even when she says — I forget who she was talking to on the phone — she says, "Turn the light on, I can't see you." [Laughter] She'll say little things like that. I guess she's psychic enough to get by, because she's fairly successful.
Bolton: The paranormal elements in her scheme were a surprise. Did you do any research into that subject?
Leonard: Oh, yeah, sure. Well, I did the research for Riding the Rap — her being a psychic, a lot of research was done for that book. And then she meets the widow, Danialle Karmanos. Every once in a while, a charity organization holds a bidding to get your name in one of my books. This has been going on for probably the last six or eight books. So I said, "All right, we'll use whoever wins." And Peter Karmanos paid $40,000 to get his wife in the book. [Laughter] So I felt I had to give her a bigger part, rather than just mention her.
Bolton: That's a great gift from husband to wife.
Leonard: So then Peter Karmanos bid in another auction, and he won. He only paid five grand that time, so I thought, Well, for five grand he'll be a ghost. [Laughter]
Bolton: Do you know if Peter Karmanos or his wife have read the book?
Leonard: I don't know if they've gotten the book. I didn't send them a review copy. It's not up to me, it's up to the organization, whoever put on the auction. I think they'll be pleased.
Bolton: I think so, too. You have a huge body of work, an amazing number of characters. Do you just pull Dawn and Cundo out of your memory, or do you have a list to keep track of them?
Leonard: I just wait for one of them to pop up. In Road Dogs, I liked those characters and I wanted to use them again. That was the main thing. I'm doing something now which is quite different. I'm writing about what's going on in the Indian Ocean, in the Gulf of Aden, with the pirates.
Bolton: Did you just start writing this?
Leonard: Well, I started in November when it<