Sunday, July 12, 2009

Mr. Paradise

I hadn't read an Elmore Leonard novel in some time but the old urge came back as I thumbed through Mr. Paradise. Everything looked to be in place. In most of Leonard's novels of the 90s and after there's a stock company of damaged people. This gives the books humanity. There's also often a set-up that goes wrong. And there is always storytelling architecture that is unparalled. All present and accounted for in Mr. Paradise

The novel is named after an eighty-four year old Detroit lawyer Anthony Paradiso who likes to hire lovely female escorts to dress up as cheerleaders and do some cheering as he watches tapes of previous Michigan football games. The night the book opens escort Chloe Robinette convinces her friend Victoria's secret model Kelly Barr to accompany her. Chloe's running out of tricks and maybe an additional woman will make the standard routine seem fresher. Kelly reluctantly agrees to go.

This is a bad choice of nights because Paradiso's man Montez Taylor has paid two hit men--the stock company choices for Stupid Criminals this time out--to kill Paradiso. Enter detective Frank Delsa who'll not only disentangle all the entanglements but fall quickly in love with the comely Kelly Barr.

There is a lot of violence, a lot of great patter and some great man-woman stuff, the familiar elements of many of Leonard's later novels. The man gives value for your entertainment dollar.

As I was reading I became aware of how Leonard's approach to novels has changed crime fiction. There is the matter of leaving out all those words he claims nobody wants anyway. There is the matter of writing so cinematically you feel guilty for not bringing popcorn along. And there is the matter of a kind of hipster irony informing all of it except the romance scenes. It makes us all feel like insiders instead of tourists when we're talking street stuff.

I'll always prefer his earlier books but his body of work is undeniably the most important of our time. And Mr. Paradise is a hell of a lot of fun.


Anonymous said...

I have never experienced the scabrous world that Mr. Leonard writes about, having grown up in the sheltered 1940s middle class. Yet I sense that he captures that rough world with perfect verisimilitude. And those who have lived in that world seem to agree: he catches that life just as it is, which makes him a gifted novelist.

Richard Wheeler

charlie stella said...

His use of something like shaved vs. natural in Mr. Paradise was a great touch. Sort of like "pull my finger" in Honey's Room. Glitz was the first Leonard novel I read way back in the day and that one kept me a fan for life.

He's one of crime's masters.

Patrick Shawn Bagley said...

Not his best, but still a good, fun read.