Anyway, the one book I actually read, I loved. And I knew I would love his other books. And I love crime novels and am always looking for something to read. Sometimes it is actually painful for me not to have a good crime novel to read--and here's Leonard with like, how many, thirty books? And yet I never read him. Why not? I have no idea. I guess it was always just something I was going to get around to.
Well, I'm on a Leonard kick now. I just read the new one (terrific) and Freaky Deaky, and will probably read half a dozen more before school starts. It's kind of a cliché to say that Leonard is a Great American Writer, because it's obvious that he is, though he doesn't write about anything of particular importance--nothing historically significant, or morally challenging, or especially "moving" or "inspiring." But he does do the only thing literary writers are supposed to give a crap about--create distinctive characters using distinctive prose.
The thing that really makes the guy what he is, though, is dialogue--he is better at writing it than pretty much anyone I've ever read. Here's a random scene from Freaky Deaky; a police Detective, Chris, is staying at his father's apartment after getting kicked out by his girlfriend:
His dad said, "You seem to have a lot of trouble with women. They keep throwing you out.""I do what she wants, she comes up with something else, I don't talk to her."
"I don't know what it is," his dad said, "you're not a bad-looking guy. You could give a little more thought to your grooming. Get your hair trimmed, wear a white shirt now and then, see if that works. What kind of aftershave you use?"
"I know you are and I'm glad you came to me. When'd she throw you out, last night?"
"She didn't throw me out, I left. I phoned, you weren't home, so I stayed at Jerry's."
"When you needed me most," his dad said. "I'm sorry I wasn't here."
"Actually," Chris said, "you get right down to it, Phyllis's the one does all the talking. She gives me banking facts about different kinds of annuities, fiduciary trusts, institutional liquid asset funds...I'm sitting here trying to stay awake, she's telling me about the exciting world of trust funds."
"I had a feeling," his dad said, "you've given it some thought. You realize life goes on."
"I'm not even sure what attracted me to her in the first place."
His dad said, "You want me to tell you?"
Leonard is a master of dropped words, rubber-stamped dialogue tags, comma splices, tense changes, cross purposes--he mingles the inventive efficiencies of real speech, as spoken by people who love to talk, with the technical requirements of written prose in a way that makes the page disappear and the voices come to life in the mind. As I said to Rhian last night, in the final stretch of this book, I could listen to these people all day long.