Elmore Leonard passed away yesterday. I never met the man and am not as well-versed as others are in his work. But he casts a very long shadow.
That’s not to say that I don’t know any of his work. The first novel of his I read was The Law at El Rondido, from his Western days. It was not a bad introduction to the master. While it did not have the subversive streak his later work thrives upon, it did have the classic Leonard prose – short, simple sentences, lean plotting, and snappy dialog. Long before Stick and Fifty-two Pickup and The Whole Nine Yards, those infamous rules were already in evidence.
It’s the rules that define Leonard’s writing. Without recounting them here, the main gist was simply “Don’t bore the reader.” But when Leonard switched from Westerns to crime, he added an element of satire to his storytelling. This had a huge impact on later writers Carl Hiassen and Dave Barry and even science fiction writer John Scalzi. (Go read The Android’s Dream and tell me Scalzi was not channeling – if not Hiassen who channels Leonard regularly – Elmore Leonard himself.)
Leonard’s influence crept into my fiction when I wrote Road Rules. There was a certain smart-ass tone and a healthy dose of the absurd that can be traced back to Leonard in that story.
Leonard left a huge legacy, and unlike a lot of writers who kept producing past their prime, Leonard kept up the quality. He will be missed.