I was saddened to hear of Elmore Leonard’s death this week. The man had reached a good age, and after a stroke who knows if he’d have ever written again. But he left behind a body of work that will be enjoyed for many, many years to come.
I can’t claim to have read all his books, probably not even a majority. But every time I’ve sat down with an Elmore Leonard novel, I’ve devoured it. He had everything in balance, the humour and the action, the surprises and the twists. His dialogue was superb, always so natural. His writing was like cream. All you had to do was sink into it.
It was only fair when he was lauded as more than a crime writer. A good novel is a good novel, not matter the genre. And has he showed so well, literary fiction doesn’t have the monopoly on style. And because of his stories, there’s one of the best shows on television – Justified (Raylan is based on a character Leonard created).
He was a writer for others to measure themselves against and know they’d come up short. A good and salutary lesson.
But he’s far from being the only one. I’m currently reading The Guts, the new book by Roddy Doyle. It’s has everything that made me fall in love with his work in the first place – the laughter, compassion, family love and craziness (and music). And, of course, the dialogue. Again, so natural, so perfect that it seems to leap off the page with a Dublin accent. Like Leonard, his dialogue is an art form, it can bring beauty of the mundane. Again, words like cream.
They’re not the only two, of course. Other writers are available. But these are the pair in my week.