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 & Entertainment
TV

Arts & Entertainment
Customers browse through Vinyl Junkies record shop in Berwick Street, Soho, London
music

Arts & Entertainment
Who laughs lass: Jenny Collier on stage
ComedyCollier was once told there were "too many women" on bill
Arts & Entertainment
Ian Anderson, the leader of British rock band Jethro Tull, (right) and British guitar player Martin Barre (left) perform on stage
music

VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
Don (John Hamm) and Megan (Jessica Paré) Draper are going their separate ways in the final series of ‘Mad Men’
tvReview: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Arts & Entertainment
James Franco and Chris O'Dowd in Of Mice and Men on Broadway
theatre

Review: Of Mice and Men

Arts & Entertainment
art

By opportunistic local hoping to exhibit the work

Arts & Entertainment
Leonardo DiCaprio will star in an adaptation of Michael Punke's thriller 'The Revenant'
film

Fans will be hoping the role finally wins him an Oscar

Arts & Entertainment
Cody and Paul Walker pictured in 2003.
film

Arts & Entertainment
Down to earth: Fern Britton presents 'The Big Allotment Challenge'
TV

Arts & Entertainment
The London Mozart Players is the longest-running chamber orchestra in the UK
musicThreatened orchestra plays on, managed by its own members
Arts & Entertainment
Seeing red: James Dean with Sal Mineo in 'Rebel without a Cause'
film

Arts & Entertainment
TV
Arts & Entertainment
Heads up: Andy Scott's The Kelpies in Falkirk
art

What do gigantic horse heads tell us about Falkirk?

Arts & Entertainment
artGraffiti legend posts picture of work – but no one knows where it is
Arts & Entertainment
A close-up of Tom of Finland's new Finnish stamp
art

Finnish Postal Service praises the 'self irony and humour' of the drawings

Arts & Entertainment
Pierce Brosnan as James Bond in 2002's Die Another Day
film

The actor has confessed to his own insecurities

Life & Style
Green fingers: a plot in East London
TV

Allotments are the focus of a new reality show

Arts & Entertainment
Myleene Klass attends the Olivier awards 2014

Oliviers 2014Theatre stars arrive at Britain's most prestigious theatre awards
Arts & Entertainment
Stars of The Book of Mormon by Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park

Oliviers 2014Blockbuster picked up Best Musical and Best Actor in a Musical
Arts & Entertainment
Lesley Manville with her Olivier for Best Actress for her role in 'Ghosts'

Oliviers 2014Actress thanked director Richard Eyre for a stunning production
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

    Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
    Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

    British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

    The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
    Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

    Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

    Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
    Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
    Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

    Cannes Film Festival

    Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
    The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

    The concept album makes surprise top ten return

    Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
    Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

    Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

    Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
    10 best baking books

    10 best baking books

    Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
    Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

    Jury still out on Pellegrini

    Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

    As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
    Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

    Mad Men returns for a final fling

    The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

    Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit