When Elmore Leonard died Tuesday -- at 87, still working on his 46th book -- we asked some of our favorite authors to share their thoughts about him. Robert Crais, the bestselling author of the 2012 thriller "Suspect" and the Elvis Cole crime series that began with "L.A. Requiem," has this remembrance.
Most people knew him from "Get Shorty" or "Justified," or "Be Cool" or "Bandits," and so this may surprise you, me being a crime writer and all, but my favorites are his westerns, "Valdez Is Coming" and "Hombre." Not to say I don't love the quirky, violent, funny crime novels that made him famous -- I do -- but I discovered him way back in my teenage years through his westerns. The first time I met the man, I met him through cheesy, broke-backed, secondhand paperbacks of "Hombre" and "Valdez Is Coming," bought for 17 cents each (I still have them) at the same used bookstore in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where I discovered Raymond Chandler.
The second time I met Elmore Leonard ("Dutch" to his friends) was in Montova, Italy, where we were part of a small troop of American writers invited to a fancy literary festival called Festivaletteratura. Despite my being a hardcore fan of his work, our paths had not crossed before, and when arrangements were being made, the high point for me was knowing I would (finally!) get to meet Mr. Leonard. (My personal task was to do so without going all slackjaw fanboy and coming off like a dweeb.) When I spotted him surrounded by our Italian hosts across the hotel lobby, I steeled myself, ran through the little speech I had rehearsed, and politely interrupted his conversation to introduce myself. I didn't want to intrude on their conversation, and I certainly didn't expect to be on the great Dutch Leonard's radar; I simply wanted to express my admiration for his work and come off as a fellow professional (not to mention, an adult), but I was bowled over when he embraced me and launched into an enthusiastic description of my books to the Italians. I was struck stupid by his warmth and generosity, went totally fanboy, and stood rooted in awe. Elmore Leonard was The Man.
Elmore Leonard was also a genius at dialog, character, and human situations, and was a working, writing textbook of same. He was also a great guy, a nice man, and a national treasure. His future work will be missed. He will be missed.