Fun with guns

Out of Sight
by Elmore Leonard

I’m reasonably certain I saw the film of this shortly after it came out and I remember absolutely nothing about it, which isn’t generally a sign of quality. I can’t be sure until some time has passed but I think the book was better.

I’ve been meaning to read some Elmore Leonard for years. He’s often called the king of crime fiction and has won numerous awards. I would have liked to start with something from earlier in his career but this was what the library had. He’s been writing novels and screenplays since 1953 and is still going strong. That’s one long career. This is one of his more famous titles and even spawned a short-lived TV series so it probably wasn’t a bad start point.

The story arch is basically a love story, that of serial bankrobber Jack Foley, just escaped from his third spell in prison, and beautiful, hard-nut federal marshal Karen Cisco, who managed to be in the wrong place at the wrong time when Foley was making his escape. In their brief time together an odd bond is established that neither can shake, even though next time they meet they may have to accept that they’re on opposite sides.

It’s not the best writing in the world. And the copy editing was atrocious. There were often words missing, making sentences nonsensical. Leonard’s much-lauded dialogue was very Pulp Fiction, which no doubt I should be saying the other way round, with discussions between characters jumping from how to avoid the cops to a funny news story they just read, or obsessing about clothes. It makes a big difference to the readability of what could otherwise be a very gritty story. There’s some serious crimes going down here, with some not very nice people involved, but Foley and his sidekick – the appropriately named Buddy – are classic loveable rogues and it’s hard, reading this, not to wish that there were some way that Foley and Cisco could believably end up together.

This was an enjoyable, quick read. I wasn’t on the edge of my seat wondering what would happen next, I felt that was fairly predictable (though maybe I did have a vague memory of the film after all) but I definitely did care about the characters. At some point I will definitely come back to Leonard’s rather large back catalogue.

First published in the US in 1996 by Dell Publishing.