(Literary Masterpieces, Critical Compilation)

Elmore Leonard was born in Louisiana but grew up in Detroit and still lives in the Detroit area. He has set several of his novels in Florida, Cuba, California, and Mississippi, but in this book he returns to crime-ridden, ethnically diverse Detroit with gusto. Many of his characters are African American, and Leonard delights and excels in mimicking the unique, sometimes poetic brand of English spoken by his underprivileged but resourceful, defiant, and intrepid black characters. He might almost be called a modern-day Mark Twain.

Montez Taylor has been working for Mr. Paradise for ten years. He is forced to dress in conservative suits and ties to look like a private secretary. He keeps his true feelings, which are hostile and greedy, to himself, waiting for the old man to die and leave him the two-story mansion worth about two million dollars, as Mr. Paradise has often promised. Then Montez learns that his employer, who enjoys tormenting and tantalizing relatives and retainers alike, has changed his mind and is leaving the house to a granddaughter.

Montez decides to have his employer murdered while he still retains control of a safety box containing unknown documents, thought to be worth millions to Chloe Robinette, Mr. Paradise's mistress. Montez believes she will share the fortune with him in gratitude for preserving the documents and expediting the creepy, perverted old man's death. Otherwise, he can threaten her with the same fate that befell their employer.

Leonard's plots are always complicated and hard to follow. They frequently depend on coincidence and happenstance. Montez has contracted with the crooked attorney Avern Cohn to have Carl Fontana and Art Krupa, two fearless and ruthless but moronic hit men, invade the Paradiso mansion at a specific date and time. They are supposed to break a window and steal a few items to make the entry look like a more-or-less random home invasion.

As usual in a Leonard novel, the characters have their own ideas. They are not stick figures like characters in many genre novels. Leonard has often stated that his creative method is to create a cast of interesting characters with conflicting motivations and let them work out their own destinies. The typical Leonard novel contains long periods of nothing much happening, followed by explosions of unexpected violence. Although the story contains many murders, most violence occurs off the page or in the past tense. Leonard's fans enjoy suspense rather than gore. They feel sure that something very bad is going to happen eventually, with all the greedy, unprincipled characters involved—but what, how, and when are the questions that keep them turning pages.

Chloe does not show up on the night she is supposed to act as a half-naked University of Michigan cheerleader while Mr. Paradise, reliving his past, watches an old Rose Bowl game on videotape. Instead, Chloe arrives the next night and brings along her roommate Kelly Barr to assist her. The two young blondes look very much alike in their blue-and-beige cheerleader outfits. Montez has been unable to contact Cohn or either of the hit men to postpone the hit. He is ordered to take Kelly upstairs, while Mr. Paradise tries his best to make love to Chloe in front of the television set.

The unhappy factotum has to stand helplessly by while Fontana and Krupa enter, shoot the old man dead, and then kill Chloe to eliminate a witness. When Montez runs downstairs to talk to the killers, Kelly comes out into the hallway overlooking the foyer and sees the hit men taking their leave. She is now in danger of being killed by Fontana and Krupa—or by Montez, who decides on the spur of the moment to have Kelly assume the identity of Chloe so that she can forge Chloe's name, cash in on the documents, which turn out to be stock certificates, and share the proceeds with him. After seeing what has happened to her girlfriend, Kelly agrees to go along with Montez's scheme. Montez himself is under tremendous pressure because he owes the killers $50,000 for their handiwork and really cannot expect to inherit anything from his employer.

It does not take detective Frank Delsa long to figure out that Kelly is Kelly, and she is relieved to be able to confess. He promises to protect her, not only because she is a...

(The entire section is 1741 words.)