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Remembering Elmore Leonard

Linda Solomon
HarperCollins Publishers

Detroit lost one of its greats yesterday.

Elmore Leonard, 87, will be remembered as the writer who rehabbed the Western, wrote great bad guys, and saw his stories made into movies like "3:10 to Yuma" and "Get Shorty."

So in honor of one of America’s most prolific crime writer, we're going to take a tip from the man himself: show, don’t tell.


That's a teaser from the first episode of Justified. The hit show is based on several of Leonard's stories.

And the lead, U.S. Marshall Raylan Givens, is classic Leonard.

He swaggers more than he talks. But when he does open his mouth, it's memorable.

Also classic Leonard: the now-famous Justified villain Boyd Crowder, a bad guy so fun to watch you almost want to believe he's got the moral high ground.

And that's saying something, given that the first time we meet him, he’s firing a rocket launcher at a church.

That first episode takes its name from the Elmore Leonard novella: Fire in the Hole.


He took pulpy cliches, like backwoods honor codes and rough street justice, and stripped them down to just good stories.

"I think I learned as much as I could from Hemingway,” Leonard told an interviewer in a YouTube series last year, "'cause he made it look easy. And the only problem I saw with Hemingway, finally, was that he didn't have a sense of humor. He took everything so seriously. And I'd have trouble doing that. 'Cause I see humor in almost everything."

This is the guy who gave us Get Shorty after all, which has a mobster looking to leave sleaze behind, only to wind up in the movie business.

FYI, the clip below contains vulgarities. And a smokin’ Renee Russo.


Leonard was subtle, too.

His story "Out of Sight," manages to take what could have been just film noir trope (the sensual female federal officer kidnapped by the handsome master criminal - seriously) and makes it into something so sexy and tensely fun that a 15-years-younger George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez play the leads. 


In just about everything Leonard wrote - whether it was set in Hollywood or Harlan County, Kentucky – place played a major role.

Hard not to think that's something he learned a little bit about in Detroit.

Leonard moved to the city in 1934 and wrote about his hometown frequently.

“I've used Detroit because I live here,” he told Time recently.

“Because I remember parts of it that were important in the past. And I know the city. But Detroit is perfect for me."

Leonard's also remembered for his 10 rules of writing. Number 10: "try to leave out he parts that people skip."

Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently covering public health. She was a 2023 Pulitzer Prize finalist for her abortion coverage.
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