Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Book Review- Road Dogs

"When a man's partner is killed, he's supposed to do something about it. It doesn't make any difference what you thought of him. He was your partner and you're supposed to do something about it."- from the John Huston screenplay adaptation of Dashiell Hammett's "The Maltese Falcon"

"They put Foley and the Cuban together in the backseat of the van..."-from the first sentence of "Road Dogs", Elmore Leonard's latest novel.

Let's imagine you're at a bar, with a group of people, maybe people you know or have heard stories about, and the conversation you're having with them- or really, you're listening to them describe what they're thinking as they went through this recent event they all shared- is really great. Also, they're all criminals and some are more violent than others. Some are also stupider. But they're all very engaging and interesting as they talk about this moment where there lives intersected.

And that's an Elmore Leonard novel.

"Road Dogs" brings together three characters from other Leonard books: Jack Foley ("Out Of Sight"), Cundo Rey ("La Brava"), and The Reverend Dawn Navarro ("Riding The Rap"). There are also cameo appearances from previous Leonard stories including the maverick judge Maximum Bob ("Maximum Bob") and Foley's one-night stand U.S. Marshall Karen Cisco ("Out Of Sight"). Like most of the background characters in this crime fiction minimalist's (who once claimed the only verb he would allow would be the word "said") work, we learn everything we need to know about what they've been up to in a couple of paragraphs.

What we learn about the main characters are- Foley and Cundo became friends (or the titular "Road Dogs") in prison and Cundo hired a hotshot lawyer for an early release for Foley. Cundo has made a bundle in Southern Californian real estate and has a common-law wife in Reverend Dawn who has become a psychic-to-the-stars while staying in one of Rey's houses.

Got that?

Foley (George Clooney) and Cisco (Jennifer Lopez in her best role) come to an
understanding in Steven Soderbergh's critically acclaimed film adaptation of
"Out Of Sight".

Foley still thinks about Karen, while trying to sort out whether he should go straight or do whatever illegal scheme Cundo, or Dawn (or both) has cooked up. Foley also gets busy with almost every woman he meets in the book. And waits for someone to come up with something to do. Including himself.

"Riding The Rap" is a sequel to the Elmore Leonard
book "Pronto".
One of the things Leonard does really well is show how career criminals are sort of at the mercy of the elements when they get out of prison. Foley, arguably the smartest one of the bunch, still doesn't commit to any action (besides self-preservation) or anyone throughout the entire course of the book. Rey at first, seems to have plans, but they dissipate once he gets out. Dawn is consistently frustrated at the lack of ambition in the men in her life, but the plans she make keep getting sidetracked.

Supposedly, in the mid-eighties, Dustin Hoffman dithered
on making a film version of this book so much that it
never got made- thus inspiring the short, method actor,
movie star of the book "Get Shorty".

In the end, you will have spent maybe a day (Leonard books are always a quick read for me) with some of the more interesting ex-cons, cheats, swindlers, gangbangers and feds you'll ever meet. Like the films "The Anderson Tapes", "The Asphalt Jungle" or "The Killing", a group of shady people get together, try to pull off a job and in the end no one, except maybe Foley is any wiser or richer. Except that Leonard gives the perspective of each character so sharply, it feels like he uses jeweler's tools instead of pen and paper.
"Road Dogs" is the latest jewel in Elmore Leonard's crime thriller crown.

This book was made into a very short-lived ABC
summer replacement show in the late nineties,
starring Beau Bridges in the title role. It was
produced by Barry Sonnenfeld, who directed
"Get Shorty".

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