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
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment
Relocation, relocation: Zawe Ashton travels the pathway to Northampton
Arts and Entertainment
BBC Three was launched a little over five years ago with the slogan: “Three, is a magic number, yes it is.”

BBC Trust agrees to axe channel from TV in favour of digital move

TV
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Armie Hammer in the new film of ‘The Lone Ranger’

TV
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
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.

    Isis in Syria: Influential tribal leaders hold secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over possibility of mobilising against militants

    Tribal gathering

    Influential clans in Syria have held secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over the possibility of mobilising against Isis. But they are determined not to be pitted against each other
    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians

    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

    A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians
    Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously

    Illnesses, car crashes and suicides

    Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously
    Srebrenica 20 years after the genocide: Why the survivors need closure

    Bosnia's genocide, 20 years on

    No-one is admitting where the bodies are buried - literally and metaphorically
    How Comic-Con can make or break a movie: From Batman vs Superman to Star Wars: Episode VII

    Power of the geek Gods

    Each year at Comic-Con in San Diego, Hollywood bosses nervously present blockbusters to the hallowed crowd. It can make or break a movie
    What do strawberries and cream have to do with tennis?

    Perfect match

    What do strawberries and cream have to do with tennis?
    10 best trays

    Get carried away with 10 best trays

    Serve with ceremony on a tray chic carrier
    Wimbledon 2015: Team Murray firing on all cylinders for SW19 title assault

    Team Murray firing on all cylinders for title assault

    Coaches Amélie Mauresmo and Jonas Bjorkman aiming to make Scot Wimbledon champion again
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!
    Ashes 2015: Angus Fraser's top 10 moments from previous series'

    Angus Fraser's top 10 Ashes moments

    He played in five series against Australia and covered more as a newspaper correspondent. From Waugh to Warne and Hick to Headley, here are his highlights
    Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

    EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

    An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

    The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
    How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

    Heavy weather

    What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
    World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

    World Bodypainting Festival 2015

    Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
    alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

    Don't call us nerds

    Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high