Recommended Reading: Elmore Leonard’s “Charlie Martz & Other Stories”

The literary world dimmed when Elmore Leonard died two years ago, but now it’s time for his Tupac impression: Dutch has lost tracks, yo.

Elmore Leonard is famous outside of his fans for his Ten Rules of Writing.  His son’s introduction to Charlie Martz & Other Stories makes clear that Leonard violates several of the rules he’d set down fifty years after these unpublished works were written (for instance, there are nine exclamation points on page 150 alone).  Are these stories unpublished because they’re not worthy?  Hell, no.  Are Michelangelo’s sketches unfit for our eyes?  Are Frida Kahlo’s notebooks?  Should we refuse to listen to early Beatles’ recordings of blues songs?  These short stories might not be Elmore Leonard at his finest, but Leonard on his worst day still writes circles around half the folks coming at you in this week’s New Yorker.

Some of it’s hokey as hell, like Mickey Spillane on a bender.

I covered her with the .32.  It was a good thing because the negligee was falling down on the job.

But “One, Horizontal” still hooks you through the nose from paragraph one, and I find reading that line more inspirational than any of the Ten Rules.  If Elmore Leonard himself started out with lines that hackneyed, it shows how hard he worked to get better, that practice truly makes perfect.

Like any early efforts from a master, it’s fun to see the work go places you’d never expect.  Communist China.  Inside the minds of sad-sack salesmen and wanna-be Bowling League Presidents.  On vacation in the Costa del Sol.  These stories also prove that he had mountainous talents for character and plot from the start, along with that perfect ear for dialog.  And there are glimpses of greatness, particularly in the westerns “Charlie Martz” and “First Western Siesta in Paloverde”, if I had to pick two favorites.  Or maybe “Trespassers.”  But really, my favorite Elmore Leonard story is usually the one I just finished.

If you’re an Elmore Leonard fan then Charlie Mantz and Other Stories will only deepen your appreciation.  If you’re not, then I’d guess that Charlie Mantz and Other Stories will make you one.

Unless, of course, you hate fun.

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