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(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

TOUCH was written in 1977 but was put on the publishing shelf because of its unusual topic. Leonard had to wait until he was a best-selling author before TOUCH could be considered marketable. His gritty, sparse style is as evident in this novel as it is in his recent works, and he has created some bizarre characters. TOUCH revolves around Juvenal (whose real name is Charlie Lawson), a former brother of a Catholic order in Brazil who now helps alcoholics in a Detroit rehabilitation center. Juvenal’s attempts to remain anonymous--with the help of the center’s staff-- became impossible after he performs one of his miracle cures on a woman who has been beaten by her husband. Bill Hill, a would-be big-time promoter, decides that by exposing Juvenal to the general public he can become wealthy. He enlists Lynn Faulkner, his old friend, to uncover all she can concerning the reclusive Juvenal. During her investigation of Juvenal, they meet and eventually fall in love.

Zaniness and cutting satire are sprinkled throughout TOUCH. August Murray is the most outrageous of the characters. He is a paranoid individual who wishes to have Latin returned to the Catholic liturgy, along with other conservative measures. Murray sees Juvenal as a tool to be exploited in pursuit of his goals, and he goes to violent extremes to scare Lynn away from Juvenal. In the meantime, Bill Hill has made a deal with a local talk-show host to have Juvenal appear on his show and perform a miracle. The host, Howard Hart, is an egomaniac and does not want anyone to steal the show from him. As the action swirls around Juvenal and Lynn, the love they have for each other grows and acts as protection against the business and church zealots with whom they come in conflict. This compelling novel proves that Leonard is more than an excellent crime writer; he is a superior novelist--there is no need to attach the qualifier “crime” to the description.