Elmore Leonard: King of crime capers who gave hookers and hustlers a voice, dies aged 87

Crime novels spawned several film adaptations, including Get Shorty starring John Travolta and Danny DeVito

New York

Elmore Leonard, the writer of gritty crime novels who was as prolific in his output as he was pithy in his widely celebrated prose, died at the age of 87 after suffering a stroke three weeks ago. A statement on his website said he died at his Michigan home surrounded by family.

While Mr Leonard’s preferred territory was low-rent America peopled by conmen, loan sharks, whores and hustlers, his place in the literary firmament was entirely of a higher category. He was given an honorary National Book Award last year while Hollywood perennially craved the rights to his latest book. Those that made it onto the screen have notably included Get Shortly, Out of Sight and Be Cool.

“I didn’t know it was possible to be as good as Elmore Leonard,” the author Ann Arensberg once wrote in the New York Times. Also in the Times, Martin Amis said while reviewing Riding the Rap that Mr Leonard had “gifts – of ear and eye, of timing and phrasing – that even the most indolent and snobbish masters of the mainstream must vigorously covet.” Even as his health faded, Mr Leonard never showed any inclination to stop. “I probably won’t quit until I just quit everything – quit my life – because it’s all I know how to do,” he told The Associated Press at the time of the book award.

“And it’s fun. I do have fun writing, and a long time ago, I told myself, ‘You got to have fun at this, or it’ll drive you nuts.’” His 47th book, Blue Dreams is expected out later this year.

To aspiring novelists, Mr Leonard offered inspiration, not least because success did not come early. After a phase of writing cowboy novels petered out, he earned his keep churning scripts for educational and industrial films while writing crime novels more on the less on the side. It was only when he was 60 that he had his first best-selling work, Glitz.  Thereafter, there seemed no stopping him. 

The joy of reading a Leonard book may lie first in savouring the unsavoury nature of his characters. “My characters are what the books are about… the plot just kind of comes along,” he once said. The ruthless could seem suddenly funny by his pen, the murderous ridiculous.  He famously tired of people asking what the secrets of his writing might be and responded finally by offering ‘Ten Rules of Writing’ to the Times.  The included, ‘Try to leave out the parts that readers tend to skip’ and ‘if it sounds like writing, rewrite it’.

He was not always inclined to return to Hollywood the love that it showed him, often declaring the movies of his books heinous misfires. In an oft-told story, Leonard allegedly said of a 1969 movie version of his book The Big Bounce that it was the “at least the second-worst movie ever made”. Then when it was made into a film a second time in 2004 he told people he knew which one was the worst.

The exception may have been the 1995 film adaptation of Get Shorty directly by Barry Sonnenfeld and starring John Travolta as Chili Palmer. The author would later declare that the film had been faithful to the book. He was less kind about its sequel, Be Cool. But Leonard also gave public praise to Quentin Tarantino for his reworking of his book Rum Punch into the film Jackie Brown.

Leonard had been married three times and had five children.

Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Image has been released by the BBC
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Henry Marsh said he was rather 'pleased' at the nomination
booksHenry Marsh's 'Do No Harm' takes doctors off their pedestal
Arts and Entertainment
All in a day's work: the players in the forthcoming 'Posh People: Inside Tatler'

tv
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne plays Stephen Hawking in new biopic The Imitation Game

'At times I thought he was me'

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
One Direction go Fourth: The boys pose on the cover of their new album Four

Review: One Direction, Four

music
Arts and Entertainment
'Game of Thrones' writer George RR Martin

Review: The World of Ice and Fire

books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Bean will play 'extraordinary hero' Inspector John Marlott in The Frankenstein Chronicles
tvHow long before he gets killed off?
Arts and Entertainment
Some like it hot: Blaise Bellville

music
Arts and Entertainment
A costume worn by model Kate Moss for the 2013 photograph

art
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Len Goodman appeared to mutter the F-word after Simon Webbe's Strictly performance

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T makes his long-awaited return to the London stage
musicReview: Alexandra Palace, London
Arts and Entertainment
S Club 7 back in 2001 when they also supported 'Children in Need'
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Bruce Forsyth rejoins Tess Daly to host the Strictly Come Dancing Children in Need special
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan plays Christian Grey getting ready for work

Film More romcom than S&M

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

Review: The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
The comedian Daniel O'Reilly appeared contrite on BBC Newsnight last night

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
The American stand-up Tig Notaro, who performed topless this week

Comedy...to show her mastectomy scars

Arts and Entertainment

TVNetflix gets cryptic

Arts and Entertainment
Claudia Winkleman is having another week off Strictly to care for her daughter
TV
Arts and Entertainment
BBC Children in Need is the BBC's UK charity. Since 1980 it has raised over £600 million to change the lives of disabled children and young people in the UK

TV review A moving film showing kids too busy to enjoy their youth

Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his winning novel

Books Not even a Man Booker prize could save Richard Flanagan from a nomination

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

    Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

    Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
    Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

    The last Christians in Iraq

    After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
    Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Britain braced for Black Friday
    Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

    From America's dad to date-rape drugs

    Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

    The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
    Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
    Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

    Flogging vlogging

    First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

    US channels wage comedy star wars
    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

    When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
    Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

    Look what's mushrooming now!

    Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
    Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

    More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

    The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

    Oeuf quake

    Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
    Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

    Terry Venables column

    Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
    Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

    Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

    Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin