Monday, October 10, 2005

Books: "Rum Punch", by Elmore Leonard

I just finished reading Elmore Leonard's delightful "Rum Punch", a crime novel concerned (unsurprisingly, for fans of Leonard) with a bail bondsman who is getting sick and tired of his job. When opportunity, in the person of comely flight attendent Jackie Burke, knocks, he answers, and many plot twists later (again, a hallmark of Elmore Leonard's writing), rides off with her into the sunset.

The further into "Rum Punch" I got, the more familiar it seemed to me. Finally, it dawned on me that Quentin Tarintino's 1997 film, "Jackie Brown", starring none other than Pam Grier in the title roll, just had to be an adaptation. The Internets proved my hunch correct.

I have read three Elmore Leonard books so far, and a certain pattern has held for all three: I have seen a movie interpretation, was disappointed, read the book, and wanted to see the movie again. These three books were, in chronological order, "Get Shorty", "The Big Bounce", and now "Rum Punch". I saw both "Jackie Brown" (the film adaptation of "Rum Punch", as we have just discovered) and "Get Shorty" as a teenager, and was expecting both of them to be "Pulp Fiction: The Sequel", "Jackie Brown" since Tarantino directed it, and "Get Shorty" since it starred John Travolta. When I went back and watched "Get Shorty" after reading the eponymous book (which was last time I was in Japan, coincidentally), I was blown away. Snappy dialogue, a plot with more twists than a Synder's pretzel, and some great characters. I imagine that I will experience the same thing when I re-visit "Jackie Brown", which should happen soon since I have both a Tsutaya card and a Bittorrent client... (oops, was that last bit out loud!?).

"The Big Bounce", on the other hand, is a different story. It must be Ryan O'Neal's (no, not my friend Ryan O'Neil, the actor who was married to Farah Fawcett!) worst movie. It is a terrible, terrible film. Apparently, Elmore Leonard himself was totally shut out of the script-writing process, and he pronounced the final script as terrible. I do not know if he was more involved in the remake of the film, starring Owen Wilson and Charlie Sheen. I suspect that he was not, as IMDB voters largely panned the film.

Speaking of remakes and sequels, I did see Be Cool, the sequel to "Get Shorty", based on Elmore Leonard's book of the same name. It was not bad; I especially enjoyed the always-hilarious Vince Vaughn's antics. Travolta, rehashing the character of Chili Palmer, was just OK. I missed Rene Russo, who played Palmer's love interest in "Get Shorty". Casting Uma Thurman as Palmer's new lover interest was a mistake; nothing could top the Thurman / Travolta chemistry in "Pulp Fiction", and Thurman seems to give her best performances when under the watchful eye of Tarantino.

So why did this book review suddenly turn into a film review? Simple: Leonard writes novels that read like movies. And I mean this as a compliment. Leonard is Hollywood at its best: amazingly witty, sharp dialogue, unforgettable characters rendered without resorting to reading their thoughts much (a device that is used a lot in literature but seldom works on the screen; with Denis Leary's hallucinations in his fantastic "Rescue Me" being one of the few examples to the contrary), colourful settings, intricate plots that keep you guessing until the last page, and a very cinematic style of narration. Leonard is quite simply one of the finest pop fiction writers out there, in the same league as Tom Clancy, and in my mind, king of the comic crime caper.

My opinion? Thumbs up!


Sean said...

Fascinating. I've never read any of Leonard's stuff, but it sounds downright righteous, dude. I'll have to pick something up. What should I start with -- I haven't seen "Jackie Brown" the movie if that matters...

Josh Glover said...

@Sean: I am rather surprised that you have not read Elmore Leonard. I do think he would be right up your alley.

I would recommend "Get Shorty" for starters, as it is my favourite of the three books I have read by Leonard. But all three have been great, so I would imagine that a random grab from the library's Leonard zone would be rewarding. :)

Sean said...

Done and DONE!

A recommendation right back atchya: "Child of God" by Cormac McCarthy. Verrrry macabre and spare and unsettling. And a gr8 rawkin read, to boot!

Josh Glover said...

Unfortunately, the Yokohama City Public Library does not have a copy. If you have one, any chance you can loan it to me? Just airmail it to me (there should be a special media rate) and I will PayPal you back the postage!