I’ve never really been a fan of Westerns, either in print or on the screen. But that’s changing thanks to the HBO series Deadwood and the Elmore Leonard novel Valdez Is Coming. Both, of course, feature a clash between a villain and a lawman. The Valdez in Valdez Is Coming is the friendly and likable Bob Valdez, the part-time constable whose day job is stagecoach driver. (Nobody in town, with the exception of the Madam, knows that Bob Valdez used to be Roberto Valdez, a former member of the Army who was very adept as both an Indian tracker and a marksman.) When Valdez inadvertently plays a part in the death of a local man, Bob turns back into Roberto as he tries to make things right. Naturally, there is an ample amount of gunplay in this novel, as things build to a final showdown between Valdez and crime boss Frank Tanner. I love Leonard’s modern crime novels and this Western set in the late 1800s features those same characters, just one century earlier.
Archive for category Elmore Leonard
I started reading The Moonshine War by Elmore Leonard right around the same time I started watching HBO’s Boardwalk Empire and I couldn’t help thinking about the TV series while reading the novel. The common thread between the two stories set on opposite ends of the Prohibition time line is one of corruption among public officials. In Boardwalk Empire, it is Atlantic City treasurer Nookie Thompson and his younger brother, Eli, the sheriff. In The Moonshine War, set in the fictitious town of Marlett, Kentucky, it’s Mr. Baylor, the sheriff, and government Prohibition agent Frank Long. The story opens with a “raid” by Mr. Baylor and his thirsty deputies at the property of Son Martin, who happens to make the best moonshine in the county. All is well until Long, an Army buddy of Martin’s, turns up in town and starts raiding the stills in the hills. Long enlists a bunch of lowlifes to serve his his deputies, as they try to find the hidden stash of whiskey made by Martin’s father — over 100 barrels worth over $100,000 in 1930s money. Among those working for Long are an interesting pair of villains — Dr. Taulbee, a physician turned felon who specializes in bootlegging, and his psychopathic sidekick, Dual Meaders. In one scene, Meaders sees a seersucker suit he likes and makes the guy wearing it sell it and disrobe — on the spot. From the title of the book, one can surmise that things get nasty toward the end and similar to Leonard’s last book, The Big Bounce, there are a couple of twists and turns before a nice, tidy ending.
I pride myself on reading a book prior to watching a movie based upon upon a book, but I have to admit that The Big Bounce by Elmore Leonard threw me. In this case, I watched the remake of the movie prior to reading the novel. Usually I’m not a fan of a movie based upon a great book. This time, I enjoyed them both and look forward to watching the original movie. But first thing first. The sixth novel by Leonard, I’m reading this one first since I’m not a fan of Westerns (although I’m sure those first five books were pretty good). In this book, we have the classic mystery novel built upon the typical scheme to rob someone of a large sum of money. But Leonard pulls it off — both with the plot and the characters. Long before Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan was saving the world, this Jack Ryan was a former minor league baseball player turned drifter who is helped by a local magistrate named Mr. Majestyk. (I actually saw the movie Mr. Majestyk when I was a kid and the movie character played by Charles Bronson doesn’t really jibe with the book character Mr. Majestyk. The novel Mr. Majestyk is four books later and I’m curious how Leonard portrays him in print.) Not much can be said about the plot without giving things away, other than there’s good reason not one but two movies have been made from the book (and a total of 22 movies or TV shows are based upon Leonard’s novels). Majestyk makes another appearance but will we see Ryan again? Regardless, I can’t wait to read the next book in the series.