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Book Review: ‘Road Dogs’ by Elmore Leonard

Here’s a funny moment from Road Dogs, the latest novel by veteran crime writer Elmore Leonard.

The setup: Road Dogs brings back Jack Foley, the charming bank robber from Leonard’s 1996 book Out of Sight. This time Foley is on Venice Beach, hanging out in the mansion of a former prison buddy. Page 233:

In the morning Foley had his breakfast and at ten went over to the big house — the way he thought of it — to have a cup of coffee with Cundo. If he called it the White House he’d see President Obama cleaning up Bush’s mess. He didn’t see Cundo all day yesterday and missed talking to the little Cuban.

Zing! And this is no political novel. He just drops it in there.

Leonard is 84 now, godblesshim, old enough to take whatever shots he wants and successful enough to talk his editors into leaving them in.

Road Dogs has that same old tough-talking Leonard vigor, helped along immensely by the charm of Jack Foley and the lingering image of George Clooney playing Foley and romancing Jennifer Lopez in the 1998 movie Out of Sight. (Karen Sisco, the U.S. Marshall played by Lopez, appears only briefly, alas, in Road Dogs.)

Leonard acknowledged the Clooney angle in an interview with The LA Times in May, when he was a lad of 83:

Like his heroes, Leonard doesn’t do small-talk. He sits at his table and discusses the origins of “Road Dogs.”

“I like George Clooney,” he says. “And I thought, well, hell, he’ll want to do another one of these.”

Leonard has always prospered by looking to Hollywood. Film money bankrolled his career for decades. It’s said he always puts an actor’s face on his characters when he’s writing.

Leonard confirms this, firing up a Virginia Slim Light. “The one I visualize more often than anyone is Harry Dean Stanton. They say he never misses his mark, never ever forgets his lines and always knows what word to hit, which is more than you can say about movie stars.”

Which is amusing for a few reasons. One is that the femme fatale in Road Dogs smokes Virginia Slims Lights, and Foley gets grief from a fellow tough guy for smoking one:

“Virginia Slims, Light, Menthol? This what you smoke?”
“What’s wrong with Slims?” Foley said.
“I think is funny is all.”

The amusing part about Harry Dean Stanton is that in the original book, Foley is actually likened to Stanton: “Not looks — they didn’t look anything alike — but his manner: both real guys who seemed tired of who they were, but couldn’t do anything about it.” Foley’s exact age is unstated, but a 50ish con tells Foley that they’re about the same age.

In Road Dogs, written after Clooney played the role, Foley seems younger, handsomer and, well, more Clooney-esque. (Hat tip to What Alan’s Watching for pointing that out.) Clooney was 37 years old when he played Foley in Out of Sight (he’s 48 years old now). Of course, Foley also says in Road Dogs that he’s been robbing banks for 25 years; do the math and draw your own conclusions.

As far as Leonard borrowing from his own life, The LA Times also points out that Bloomfield Hills, where Leonard’s characters often commit mayhem (including Foley’s home invasion in Out of Sight), is the same wealthy Detroit suburb where Leonard himself has lived for years.

(Cool aside: Leonard’s researcher describes how Karen Sisco came to be.)

Road Dogs is a great read, and it’s in the lighter Leonard vein (like, say, The Hot Kid) instead of his harsher vein. If you liked Out of Sight, book or movie, you’ll enjoy catching up with Foley again here.

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