Critical Context

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Elmore Leonard started as a writer of Westerns but switched to urban crime when the public became surfeited with cowboys and Indians during the 1960’s, when the airwaves were saturated with such serials as Gunsmoke and The Rifleman. Most reviewers tend to ignore genre fiction or to treat it with contempt, but Leonard became a notable exception. Because of his talent, his originality, his conscientious craftsmanship, and his avant-garde technique, his novels are reviewed with the respectful attention customarily given to “quality literature.” After the publication of Glitz, Leonard’s novels appeared on the best-seller lists and stayed there longer than most more “literary” or “mainstream” fiction.

What is most important about Glitz—and about all Leonard’s subsequent crime novels—is what he termed his “sound.” His writings demonstrate the strong influence of such writers as James Joyce and William Faulkner, who introduced stream-of-consciousness narration. Leonard’s use of constantly shifting points of view may be compared to modern filmmaking techniques in which scenes are shot simultaneously by several cameras and selectively spliced together.

Leonard’s works include a number of screenplays, both originals and adaptations. Reading a Leonard crime novel can make one feel as though one is watching a movie. His novels contain the ingredients of good films: strong characterization, crisp dialogue, and interesting visual effects, making the traditional third-person narrative technique seem antiquated. His mature technique offers fascinating tools for telling stories. Fiction writers worldwide are influenced by Leonard because of his ability to impress critics while reaching a huge audience.