Elmore Leonard Analysis

Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Analyze Elmore Leonard’s distinctive handling of point of view, in which the author seldom comments upon the action and narration is almost entirely filtered through the multiple viewpoints of several characters.

Discuss the moral implications of Leonard’s frequent use of criminals as the protagonists of his novels. What codes or principles do they follow instead of the law?

Most of Leonard’s novels are set in Detroit or Florida; all include detailed descriptions of real places. How do these highly realistic settings function in his novels?

One of Leonard’s great strengths as a writer is his use of dialogue. Analyze a scene in one of his novels that is handled almost entirely in dialogue. Show how his characters are developed through their manner of speaking.

Almost all of Leonard’s novels have been bought by film studios, and many have been made into motion pictures. What aspects of his writing lend themselves particularly well to film adaptation? What aspects might cause problems for adaptation?

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

In addition to his novels, Elmore Leonard has published numerous Western short stories as well as several magazine articles on crime writing and police procedure. More significantly, he has developed considerable expertise as a writer of screenplays, both original works and adaptations of other materials, including his own novels.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Elmore Leonard has come to be widely regarded as one of the best crime-fiction writers in the world and is ranked with Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler as a writer who transcends the limitations of category fiction. He is one of those who made hard-boiled crime fiction “respectable,” and his storytelling technique has influenced countless others. In 1984, LaBrava won the Mystery Writers of America Edgar Allan Poe Award as the best novel of the year. In 1991, the International Association of Crime Writers awarded him the Hammett Prize for Maximum Bob, and in 1992 the Mystery Writers of America named him a Grand Master, its highest accolade. For his lifetime achievements, Leonard has received honorary doctorate degrees from Florida Atlantic University (1996), the University of Detroit Mercy (1997), and the University of Michigan (2000).

Leonard also enjoys the distinction of being one of America’s most-filmed writers; many of his works have been adapted as screenplays or teleplays by others and by Leonard himself. In addition to such feature films as 3:10 to Yuma (1957 and 2007), Hombre (1967), The Big Bounce (1969), Mr. Majestyk (1974), Stick (1985), Fifty-two Pick-Up (1986), The Moonshine War (1970), Cat Chaser (1989), Get Shorty (1995), Jackie Brown (1997), Out of Sight (1998), and Be Cool (2005), and the made-for-television films Glitz (1988), Last Stand at Saber River (1997), and Gold Coast (1997), Leonard’s stories have also served as the inspiration for two television series: Karen Sisco and Maximum Bob. Leonard has provided the original material for four of the top one hundred Western movies as ranked by the Western Writers of America: 3:10 to Yuma (2007), The Tall T (1957), Hombre (1967), and Valdez Is Coming (1971).


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

In 1953 Elmore Leonard began producing Western, then detective and mystery fiction, creating more than forty books. Leonard earned a significant but limited reputation as a writer of Western stories, novels, and screenplays, but his enduring contribution will be his witty, unorthodox crime thrillers that reveal the particulars of the made-men and wise guys of Detroit, Atlantic City, Miami, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and wherever human motivation and endeavor might be on display. Leonard has also written extensively for television and film. In a review of Leonard’s Bandits (1987), noted author Walker Percy said, “He is as good as the blurbs say: ’The greatest crime writer of our time, or perhaps ever.’” He shares with musician Bruce Springsteen (who achieved the feat in 1978) the distinction of being the only nonpresident to be on the covers of both Newsweek and Time magazines (in 1988) in the same calendar year; Time magazine characterized Leonard as “the [Charles] Dickens from Detroit.” Leonard continues to be a phenomenally successful popular writer who continues to merit scholarly attention for his literary corpus.

Leonard developed a cult following of crime novel readers in the 1970’s and 1980’s with such notable works as Fifty-two Pickup (1974) and City Primeval: High Noon in Detroit (1980). However, he did not have a best-selling novel until Glitz (1985), which, combined with the television movie that was made from this book in 1988, made his name a household word. In 1986, City Primeval won the Grand Prix de Littérature Policière. For the past two decades, Leonard’s novels and the television movies and feature films made from them have enjoyed immediate and considerable audiences; he has transcended the world of crime fiction and made significant contributions as a screenwriter and in his interactions with such figures as director Quentin Tarantino (Jackie Brown, 1997; made from Leonard’s 1992 novel, Rum Punch) and actor John Travolta (Get Shorty, 1995; Be Cool, 2005). Leonard received the Grand Master Award from the Mystery Writers of America in 1992 and the Cartier Diamond Dagger lifetime achievement award from the Crime Writers’ Association in 2006. A devoted grandfather who has written the children’s book A Coyote’s in the House (2004), he continued to be productive beyond his eightieth birthday, with the publication of his forty-first novel, Up in Honey’s Room (2007).


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Anderson, Patrick. The Triumph of the Thriller: How Cops, Crooks, and Cannibals Captured Popular Fiction. New York: Random House, 2007. Section on Leonard describes his minimalism, which produced lean, effective books. Contains discussion of LaBrava.

Challen, Paul C. Get Dutch! A Biography of Elmore Leonard. Toronto, Ont.: ECW Press, 2001. Uses personal interviews with the author, his personal research assistant, screenwriters, academics, and crime-fiction experts to assess the thirty-six novels that Leonard had published to that point.

Delamater, Jerome H., and Ruth Prigozy, eds. Theory and Practice of Classic Detective Fiction. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1997. Collection of essays that examine the purpose and place of detective fiction in contemporary culture, though including references back to the beginning of the subgenre in the early nineteenth century.

Devlin, James E. Elmore Leonard. New York: Twayne, 1999. Contains a biography of Leonard as well as criticism of his works.

Geherin, David. Elmore Leonard (Literature and Life). New York: Continuum, 1989. A popular biography of the author that was used as the basis for a 1991 British Broadcasting Corporation documentary, Elmore Leonard’s Criminal Records.


(The entire section is 585 words.)