Road Dogs
Elmore Leonard
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Road Dogs
Elmore Leonard
William Morrow
272 pages
May 2009
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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“I see us more as social road dogs,” Foley said. “We don’t need to be that serious about it.”

“How you see it don’t matter,” Cundo said. “Is how the population sees us. They know, even if you making a wrong move, do something stupid, they know I back you up.”
Thus is born the tight, maybe unbreakable bond between Jack Foley, a veteran bank robber on his way to becoming legendary (if his biographer/FBI watchdog, Lou Adams, has anything to say about it), and Cundo Rey, Cuban criminal, millionaire and former go-go dancer, when both men are in prison, not long before Cundo uses his money and mysterious influence to get Jack sprung and lets him move into one of his multi-million dollar homes in Venice, California, asking him only to look after Cundo’s “virgin” lady friend, sexy psychic Dawn Navarro.

Leonard’s dialogue is what makes his books for me. Fans of his many novels, all fixated on crime, punishment and the yucks in between, will recognize Cundo, Jack and Dawn from earlier works. They will recognize them by their quirks, their dress style, their detailed MOs, and their true-life dialogue. Leonard gives us vignettes that delight, such as Cundo’s protection man’s first confession in 27 years (“I want to be on the safe side because I’m going to dinner in honor of my boss. There is a possibility he could have the fortune-tellers, who’s preparing the food, poison me”). He can also raise our hackles, as in the scene where Foley offs an enemy by twisting his finger to the breaking point while both are on a rooftop trying to scare each other over the edge (“Tico’s scream cut off as he hit the patio”).

The plots are unreal and yet, Leonard tells interviewers, they are drawn by bits and pieces from real life. Who could believe Foley having a “day off” with a deputy marshal, she and he spending one too short an interlude in bed before she shoots him in the thigh to re-establish her role, and his, in life? Who can doubt the manipulative starlet who pretends to be haunted for reasons of her own, drawing Dawn as her psychic advisor and Foley as her sexual healer into her web of fantasy? And how outlandish is it that frustrated FBI man Adams wants to attain name recognition by hounding Foley, a man he believes will, must, rob another bank after he’s released from prison if hounded enough by the agent’s hired goons? Or that Foley himself would proudly deliver the agent’s last chapter (and Leonard’s, of course), tied up in red ribbon?

The book has grisly killings, crisp legal proceedings, grim prison settings complete with macaroni and cheese for supper seven days a week, and a femme fatale waiting to be taken down. Bank robber Foley is super handsome, never lacking the ability to charm whatever lady he meets, and Cundo is a scary dwarf of a man whose history includes having two of his enemies burned to death in their prison cell. In other words, no element is lacking to make this a page-turner in the inimitable Leonard style.

And you have to admire how the author mentions his own works in the course of the plot. It’s chutzpah, but for the man critics call “America’s greatest crime master,” it's allowed. And makes us chuckle.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Barbara Bamberger Scott, 2009

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