Monday, August 29, 2011

Book Nook - Get Shorty

Get Shorty written by Elmore Leonard is a novel as cool as its hero, Chili Palmer.  This is the first novel I've read by Leonard (and definitely not the last) and I'm in awe of his talent.  He has a way to convey a thought, feeling, mood and the ability move the plot along with minimal words and seemingly minimal effort.  Take the very first sentence in the book (which, incidentally, I saw on a list of great first sentences, which is what prompted me to read the novel in the first place):

"When Chili first came to Miami Beach twelve years ago they were having one of their off-and-on cold winters: thirty four degrees the day he met Tommy Carlo for lunch at Vesuvio's on South Collins and had his leather jacket ripped off."

There is so much information in just that one little sentence & those handful of words bring up a lot of questions about why Chili moved there & the story with his coat (that story from the past ends up bringing lots of complications for Chili in the present).  And the entire novel is written with compactness and precision.  No wonder Leonard has had such a successful career.

In the story, Chili travels from Miami to Las Vegas to Los Angeles to track down Leo the dry cleaner, who has scammed an airline for $300,000.  When Chili arrives in LA, he meets Harry Zimm, a film producer and his ex-girlfriend, scream-queen Karen Flores (how he meets them is typical, cool Chili-style).  Chili learns that Harry has a script that has big potential, called Mr. Lovejoy.  He somehow manages to get involved with the development of the film, but Zimm has investors that want to get involved too - limo guys to whom he is greatly indebted.  The limo guys (led by Bo Catlett) don't like Chili and want him out of the picture.  To complicate things, an old foe of Chili's, Ray Bones, is following his trail via Leo the dry cleaner's trail - the score is not settled from that incident with the coat 12 years ago.

Yes, it's a complex plot with lots of players.  But we're in good hands, thanks to Leonard's skill as a writer.  The story moves along nicely and there's never a dull moment.  The dialogue is pitch-perfect - some characters tend to leave out things like pronouns but that's exactly how you would imagine them speaking in real life.  I thought Catlett's voice and character was especially great: he's a perfect bad guy.

DH and I saw the movie based on the novel years ago & we both loved it (along with the cool, jazzy soundtrack).  They, as well as the novel, are cool without even trying......just like Chili Palmer.


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