Monday, February 1, 2016

Unpredictable to the end

Elmore Leonard's Road Dogs (2009), published when he was in his 80s, shows that his narrative gifts didn't desert him near the end of his life. The novel about two prison pals, road dogs, and what happens to them after their release, entertains as much as any of his earlier stories.

Elmore Leonard books always remind me of Coen Brothers movies. That's because of their wit, the strength of their dialogue and the unpredictability of their plots. In Road Dogs, Jack Foley, who has robbed more banks than anyone else, wins an early release because his buddy, Cundo Ray, pays for a first-rate lawyer. Then Cundo sends him to stay in one of his California mansions, while Dawn, his beautiful and supposedly chaste girlfriend, waits for his return in the other next door. When Cundo gets out of prison, you expect him to place some demand on Foley as repayment for his generosity. But that isn't what happens at all, this being Elmore Leonard. Instead the threat, make that threats, against Foley come from elsewhere.

One of those threats is Lou Adams, an FBI agent convinced Foley will quickly return to his old habits. In fact, he is betting on it. He is writing a book about the nation's greatest, and most polite, bank robber, but he needs an ending. He figures he will have that when Foley robs another bank and Adams is there to catch him. He closely monitors Foley's activity, even to the point of hiring even worse criminals to tail him. But as threats go, Lou Adams proves to be little more than an irritation. Again, this is Elmore Leonard here.

I shouldn't reveal more of the plot, for Leonard's surprises are best left to come in their own good time.

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