Wednesday, August 21, 2013

A mighty Kauri falls: RIP Elmore Leonard

"I read the new today, oh boy,
About a legendary man who made the grade. 
And though the news was rather sad
I just had to smile..."

With apologies to Messrs Lennon and McCartney for butchering their lyrics, but I'm in a strange mood today. I've just read the news about the passing of legendary crime writer Elmore Leonard, and for whatever reason, "A Day In The Life" by The Beatles came to mind. The news is, indeed, rather sad. We have lost a legend in the crime writing community. As is said in my country, "A mighty Kauri has fallen"...

But there is much to be thankful for, in this time of sadness. Elmore Leonard lived a long and full life, passing away at the age of 87 after a recent stroke, and supplied so many with so much. His work lives on, his legacy lasts, and that is something to be grateful for. Whether you're a fan of the Hollywood films and TV shows made from his work (eg Get Shorty, Out of Sight, 3:10 to Yuma, Jackie Brown, and Justified), his earlier Western novels, his clipped and morally ambiguous crime novels, or his musings and advice on writing ("Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip"), we can all still enjoy all that he produced over the years. In fact, even if you've never read or seen any of Leonard's own work, you'll still want to pause and give thanks for this man - because it's pretty likely he influenced some of your own favourite crime writers. 

On his Facebook page this morning, Michael Connelly (who has spoken about Leonard's influence on him in our various interviews over the years) recounts a tale of trying and failing to use his press pass as a young reporter in LA to get onto the set of the movie "Stick", because Connelly knew then he really wanted to be a novelist, and he really wanted to meet Elmore Leonard, who'd written the book the film was based on. 

"I finally met Elmore Leonard about ten years later on a stage when he handed me an Edgar Award for my first novel," continues Connelly. "After the program I told him that his books helped lead me to that stage. He told me that one novel was just a start. The point is Elmore “Dutch” Leonard led many writers to their destinations. He was an inspiration. I count "La Brava" as one of my all time favorite novels. There were many others just as good. Elmore was one of the best and he will truly be missed as a friend and writer."

There are many things, I think, to admire, about Elmore Leonard. He didn't become a bestseller until his later years, but wrote anyway. He adapted over the years, but also created a distinctive style and voice that has influenced others. In the past few years I've been fortunate enough to meet and interview many of the world's great crime writers, from contemporary kings like Connelly to older legends like James Lee Burke and PD James, and I'm sad today that I'll never get the chance to speak with Elmore Leonard.

But I also smile; at times like these, we often pause, and reflect on things that pass by largely unnoticed the rest of the time. So as I pause, I reflect on what I've learned from a man I've never met, the enjoyment his efforts have given me and many others, and all the things he produced that I still have to read, watch, and enjoy. And I smile. Thanks Elmore.

You can read more about Leonard's life in a news story about his death here.

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