Book Commentary – The Hot Kid by Elmore Leonard

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It’s unfortunate that I indulged in my first Elmore Leonard book mere months after he died, at age 87 (his age, not mine).  I had already owned a couple of his books that I hadn’t got around to reading, but after I watched him in this fantastic short video, I was sold on committing to one of his crime novels.  Once I finished, I googled him and learned he had died in August of 2013.

Luckily, Leonard has left us this 2005 entry into his extensive catalog of “crime” novels, The Hot Kid, a fast-paced flash of uzi fire, oil field explosions, sex with bad girls, and kidnappings.

Let me make something clear about this novel, and (from what I’ve heard about) his other work: these aren’t crime novels in the sense that a mystery is being solved.  To the contrary, the only real mysteries here are the motivations of each darkly unique character.  Our main character is a Deputy U.S. Marshall who has a history of gunning down criminals and enjoying it.  Our other main character is the neglected son of a billionaire oil man who would rather steal his dad’s fortune than inherit it.  From the start, these two are destined for a final showdown.

While reading the book, I hardly noticed the chapters going by.  Each chapter is subdivided into short scenes that are rife with activity, whether it is a conversation, a flashback to a relevant story, or a gunfight.  It gives the perception that you are almost watching a movie, as opposed to slogging through a book.

Leonard wastes no time with frivolities.  Entire scenes pass where the reader is not told the setting, although it can be assumed or else invented.    He uses the word “said”, and never embellishes with a “screeched” or a “hollered.”  His novel is also adverb-free.  You will not find anyone saying anything “emphatically” or “harshly” in the confines of an Elmore Leonard novel.  Like the settings, the manner of a character’s speech all can be assumed based on the sharply accurate dialogue, and other contextual clues.

Elmore Leonard entertains.  He entertains with the raw accuracy of his dialogue and the wit of his characters.  You’ll find yourself smirking the whole way through this book.

An excerpt:

What occupied Jack Belmont’s mind these days, outside of making money and becoming a famous outlaw, was Norm Dilworth’s wife, Heidi.

Heidi Winston from Seminole.

Where Norm had taken her out of a whore-house to the shack by the Kiefer rail yard.  Where she was when he and Norm went to prison.  Where she stayed doing washing for the railroad hands till she got a job as a chambermaid – she said – at the St. James Hotel in Sapulpa.  It turned out she was telling the truth, ’cause it was what she was doing when they came out of prison to rob banks with the Emmett Long gang.  Jack and Norm would swing back to stay at the St. James till Emmett called about another job.  It drove Jack crazy knowing she was in bed with Norm in the next room…

Heidi told him there were whores in Krebs’d screw you for four bits.  “Let ’em get laid in the town and come out here to drink and play monte.  You know what it’s like to screw a coal miner, even after he’s washed up?  You get filthy dirty.  You ever look at the laundry in the morning, the sheets?  Coal miners are dirtier’n oil workers any day, and I’m talking about all kinds, roughnecks, drillers, tool dressers, tankies, tankies are the worst.  Shooters, all they do is talk.  Ask you how many mistakes you’re allowed to make shooting nitro.  The answer’s none.  The shooter’s always talking away while these other guys off the patch are waiting in the front room with their hard-ons.”

I only wished I’d started on Elmore Leonard’s body of work sooner.  I’ll be moving on to one of two additional Elmore Leondard purchases I’ve made since finishing this one; either City Primeval, about criminals in Detroit, or Stick, which revolves around some shady characters in a place called Miami.

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