City Primeval is widely regarded as the first book of Leonard’s strongest period. As the allusion to the classic 1952 Western film High Noon in the subtitle suggests, the novel marks a conscious adaptation of the characters and themes of Leonard’s earlier Westerns to the modern urban settings of his later crime novels. The book’s protagonist, Detroit homicide detective Raymond Cruz, is a Texan of Mexican descent who thus has the background appropriate to a Western hero. Leonard describes Cruz’s relationship with Clement Mansell, the book’s villain, in terms of classic Westerns: “No—more like High Noon. Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. You have to go back a hundred years and out west to find an analogy. But there it is.” References to Westerns are scattered throughout the book, which opens with a dinner conversation between Cruz and a reporter who accuses him of trying to emulate Wyatt Earp, Clint Eastwood, and John Wayne. It closes, appropriately, with an old-fashioned showdown between Cruz and Mansell.
This frontier imagery is integrated into a thoroughly realistic context that reveals Leonard’s recent in-depth study of the daily operations of the Detroit police department. Particularly well-handled are a series of interrogation scenes in which the detectives use subtle techniques of misdirection to gain information from uncooperative suspects, who never realize how much they have given away. As in most of Leonard’s...
(The entire section is 432 words.)