Cuba Libre

In his newest novel, Elmore Leonard returns to one of his favorite settings, the exotic state of Florida. In tune with the most striking trend in recent popular novels and films, Leonard features a female viewpoint character in an aggressive role. Kathy Baker is a probation officer who worries about her charges. Her concern gets her involved with a lecherous judge who is notorious for his harshness toward criminals.

Judge Bob Gibbs is married to a much younger woman who once stimulated his aging libido but now drives him crazy with her endless talk about spirit communication, aura reading, crystal healing, and other mystical phenomena. He tries to frighten her into leaving home by hiring a backwoods-type to deliver a five-hundred-pound alligator to their rear doorstep. Kathy meets Sergeant Gary Hammond, who is investigating the incident, and becomes involved with him professionally as well as romantically. Gibbs makes it difficult for them to guard him, since he has good reason to believe he is in no real danger; however, it develops that several different people actually are plotting to get him.

Judge Gibbs and his wife Leanne are the most interesting characters in the book; the others too closely resemble figures from previous Leonard novels. Kathy Baker recalls Carmen Coulson, the heroine of KILLSHOT (1989), while her handsome policeman lover resembles Chris Mankowski of FREAKY DEAKY (1988). Elvin Crowe, one of the people trying to kill the judge, is another of Leonard’s “redneck monsters,” like the villains of UNKNOWN MAN NO. 89 (1977), CITY PRIMEVAL (1980), GOLD COAST (1980), and LABRAVA (1983); Dr. Tommy Vasco, the wealthy Cuban homosexual drug addict who is under house arrest in his mansion and forced to wear an electronic “stoolpigeon” anklet under his Community Control sentence, resembles the alcoholic Woody Ricks of FREAKY DEAKY.

A weak Elmore Leonard novel is still better than the average thriller; MAXIMUM BOB provides a good read but does not come up to Leonard’s best work. The biggest problem with the story— which the master-storyteller unaccountably seems to have overlooked—is that the bigoted, sadistic “Maximum Bob” is such an unsympathetic character that the reader cannot identify with Kathy and her lover’s urgent motivations to save the judge’s life.