Critical Context

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Elmore Leonard was a successful writer of Western fiction in the 1950’s and early 1960’s, producing five novels and many stories, including Hombre (1961), which the Western Writers of America named one of the twenty-five best Westerns of all time and which was made into a film starring Paul Newman. Thinking the market for Westerns was diminishing, Leonard turned to crime fiction, but numerous publishers rejected his first such novel, The Big Bounce, before it finally came out as a paperback original in 1969. Though he averaged a crime novel a year during the 1970’s, Leonard did not become a popular and critical success until Stick (1983) and LaBrava, the latter of which won the Mystery Writers of America Edgar Allan Poe Award in 1984. Widely praised, it secured his reputation as one of the major American crime writers, though he has said, “I think that I’m really writing novels, not mysteries, but I don’t want to sound pretentious.”

Leonard’s crime fiction stands apart from much else in the genre: His characters are less stereotypical and more substantive; he does not have a recurring detective who confronts cases in a predictable manner; and his locales and casts change considerably from book to book (though the Detroit area is the setting of a number of his novels, and LaBrava is the fourth set in the Miami Beach area). Partly by avoiding adherence to formula writing, he has advanced beyond...

(The entire section is 440 words.)