Leonard, Elmore. Swag.

NY: Delacorte, 1976.

As a writer of crime novels (and westerns and screenplays) Leonard has a well-deserved reputation for original narrative style and incisive dialogue, not to mention being known simply for telling a hell of a story. This is one of his earlier efforts and it was the first one of his I ever read, not long after it was published.

The focus is on Frank Ryan, Detroit used car salesman, and Ernest “Stick” Stickley, car thief and displaced Floridian. Stick has been content with his occasionally successful low level of criminal endeavor. Frank, until now a civilian, has ambitions. And so, one way and another, they end up as partners in the armed robbery business, specializing in groceries and liquor stores. (Bars are too dangerous and gas stations are switching rapidly to credit cards.) They’re not really a good fit, but they’re making money by sticking to the Rules that Frank has formulated, so they find a nice apartment with lots of single girls lounging by the pool, and they continue extending their streak of successful robberies. And then Frank gets together with an old buddy of his who sets up a heist on the largest department store in downtown Detroit and Stick finds himself sucked into it, very much against his better judgment. And, naturally, things go very, very wrong. Can they come out on top after all? Well, first, can they simply stay alive?

Leonard is at his peak with these two characters, who are bad guys, but not BAD bad. Stick, especially, is very sympathetic. Even while he’s shooting people in parking lots. But since this book is nearly four decades old, the 1970s itself is fascinating, bellbottoms, white loafers, and all. I estimate that I’m a couple years older than Frank and Stick, so I was there. And Leonard reminds me why I don’t miss the ’70s much. A terrific book.

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Published in: on 1 August 2013 at 4:17 am  Leave a Comment  
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