The SwitcheBook - 1993
"My favorite Leonard book....He writes the way Hammett and Chandler might write today, if they sharpened their senses of ironic humor and grew better ears for dialogue."
--Dallas Morning News
"The best writer of crime fiction alive."
Dangerously eccentric characters, razor-sharp black humor, brilliant dialog, and suspense all rolled into one tight package--that's The Switch, Elmore Leonard's classic tale of a kidnapping gone wrong...or terribly right, depending on how you look at it. The Grand Master whom the New York Times Book Review calls, "the greatest crime writer of our time, perhaps ever," has written a wry and twisting tale that any of the other all-time greats--Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, John D. MacDonald, James M. Cain, Robert Parker...every noir author who ever walked a detective, cop, or criminal into a shadowy alley--would be thrilled to call their own. Leonard, the man who has given us U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens (currently starring in TV's Justified) is at his storytelling best, as a spurned wife decides to take a rightful--and profitable--revenge on her deceiving hubby by teaming up with the two thugs he hired to abduct her.
From the critics
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They even looked somewhat alike, considering Ordell Robbie was a male Negro, 31, and Louis Gara was a male Caucasian, 34. Ordell was light-skinned and Louis was dark-skinned and that put them about even in shade.
She had come to accept people telling her she was cute— tired of acting surprised and discounting her looks. She preferred to think of herself as natural looking— with her Revlon Light ‘n’ Lively hair worn fairly short, barely teased and parted on the side— and with an inner something— she hoped— an awareness, that showed in her eyes, if anyone bothered to look. (The club lovers looked and saw their own reflections.) One thing for sure, she never felt cute or worked at it with cute moves.
“Bo’s father, Frank Dawson, shaking his head, but with a merry grin on his handsome face: “ ‘If I told you what it cost a year, would you believe six, seven thousand?’ “ “. . . a merry grin on his handsome face.”
They saw things the same and could bullshit each other with straight faces, not letting on, but each knowing he was being understood and appreciated.
*** okay joke only in the 70's novels *** Offensive language ***
“How come colored girls,” Louis said, “their asses are so high?” “You don’t know that?” Ordell glanced at him. “Same way as the camel.” Louis said, “For humping, uh?” “No, man, for going without food and water when there was a famine, they stored up what they need in their ass.”
In their fifteen years together, Frank had never admitted having a hangover.
“What difference does it make if he wins or loses, if he’s having fun?” Knowing it was a mistake as she said it. Frank said, “If you don’t play to win, why keep score?”
They’d say, “How come you’re all alone?” And she’d say, “Because I break wind a lot.”
... when Frank annoyed her she would make harmless-sounding remarks she knew would irritate him— not often but often enough— then innocently cover up with, “All I said was—”
... when it came to cleaning ladies, cub scouts, the PTA, clothes, golf scores, tennis strokes, historical love novels written by women with three names, dieting, what their husbands liked for dinner, how much their husbands drank, how their husbands tried to make love on Saturday night and couldn’t, face-lifts, boob-lifts, more dieting—
“I don’t mean necessarily guilty. I mean we sometimes feel distressed, you know, disturbed, when there’s no reason to. We sort of let things get out of hand.”
Louis couldn’t understand why tennis spectators were so polite. Why there had to be silence during a match. He’d think of a major league ballplayer in a tough situation: a batter with a three-two count waiting for the ball to come in at him ninety-five-miles-an-hour, and the fans screaming and banging seats.
*** A hardcore racist ***
Nothing is lower than Niggers and Jews, except the Police who protect them.
Dancing with Tyra was like driving a semi. She was putting on weight. Lived only for herself. Spent money like it was going out of style. Always buying clothes— but could never look as good as Mickey did in her simple little outfits. And— his wife didn’t understand him. The club lovers actually said that. “My wife doesn’t understand me.” Mickey wondered if she was supposed to say, “Oh, then let’s fool around. Frank doesn’t understand me either.”
" ... I’m not around at dinner time and my mother starts worrying. The island isn’t that big you can hide somebody very long.”
She remembered Peter Finch, the nutty newscaster in the movie, in his raincoat. “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it any more.”
Whatever you were into, it didn’t always work the way it was supposed to or the way the other guy said it would. You could have an understanding, thinking you both saw it exactly the same, and later on the other guy would say, “What’re you talking about? I didn’t say that. When did I say that?”
For about six years, in high school and in the Navy and a little after that, Louis had been Lou; but Ordell always called him Louis. Ordell said, “Looo. That’s not a name, man, that’s a sound. Some places it’s a toilet.”
“Ooooh no,” Mickey said. “That’s what everybody thinks, but money has nothing to do with happiness. What about your health?”
“I don’t know what to say to my husband. I keep thinking about it. I think, after we say the first few things, like how are you and all, then there won’t be anything to say and everything will be the same again.”
NEATNESS COUNTS. Of all the rules of magazine contests Mickey had entered when she was young, that was the one she remembered. She had taken it upon herself to be neat and clean long before she learned about virgins and holy purity from the I.H.M. Sisters.
“She hasn’t seen us.” “Come on,” Melanie said, “you don’t know what she’s seen, or what she might’ve heard. You’ve got guys working with you— maybe she identifies one of them, and if the cops’ve got any kind of sheet on you I’ll bet you’re picked up in two days.”
“Well, the guy’s a little wacko,” Louis said. “He’s got a framed picture of Adolph Hitler, a swastika flag. He’s got about, Christ, a hundred guns, hand grenades—”
“I can’t imagine being in prison,” Mickey said. “Don’t ever go,” Louis said.
****A little bit from his "Mr. Majestyk 1974" ***
But by then I didn’t have any money for gas. So I said okay, I’ll go out and pick melons for a few days, maybe a week. .... So I sign up at a place, Stanzik Farms, go out and start picking and they call a strike. Actually the strike was going on and I was hired like as a scab, buck sixty an hour. We were out in the fields and the ones on strike were up on the road forming a picket line and this Chicano girl with the union would yell at us through a bullhorn. She’d yell like, ‘Vengase! Para respecto, hombres!’ ‘Come on, for your self-respect.’
Why had he married her? Because he knew she’d always back off from a disagreement. No, he wasn’t that perceptive. He never sensed what was in her head or was even curious about what she thought. He married her because she qualified, just as he did, and if marriage became monotonous that’s the way it was; there were plenty of things to do to keep busy.
A wasp was attracted to her and she kept swiping at it with the Saturday Review, missing. Frank used Forbes and killed them instantly.
**Offensive locker room Talk worthy of Donald Trump's***
Ordell said, “but it’s a kick, you know it? Seeing a mind working above those big tits.”
He was thinking that if there were Japanese investors would they bring their clubs or would he have to get clubs for them. Little short ones. But where?
What had she contributed to the marriage? Not much. Why not? Well, she had wanted to; but all Frank seemed to need was a good wife.
“Watching her son Bo in a match at Orchard Lake, Mickey Dawson claimed she wasn’t the least bit nervous. Except there were 10 menthol cigarette butts at Mickey’s feet by the end of the first set.”
...looking at Ordell, at his white teeth in the closely trimmed beard. He reminded her of a desert Arab, not as dark as she thought he’d be in clear light.
“Well, instead of discussing what I feel is personal— I think it was Henry Kissinger who said, ‘Never complain, never explain.’ ... “It was Henry Ford the Second,” Mickey said, “the time he was arrested in California for drunk driving, with another woman in the car. ..."
There was no other Mickey perched there watching, prompting words the nice Mickey would never say. There was only one Mickey here— the Mickey she wanted to be— and it was about time to let her loose.
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Elmore Leonard's 10 Rules of Writing Leonard, Elmore Book - 2007:
If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.
1. Never open a book with weather.
2. Avoid prologues.
3. Never use a verb other than “said’’ to carry dialogue.
4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said’’. . .
5. Keep your exclamation points under control.
6. Never use the words “suddenly’’ or “all hell broke loose.’’
7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.
10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.
The book's final paragraph demonstrated his genius perfectly:
'It was hot in the mask. Mickey wished the big girl would hurry up and realize what was happening to her so she could take her bra and leave . . . go home and watch Frank get his phone call.'
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