Thursday, April 18, 2013

A Road Worth Traveling

Road Dogs

by Elmore Leonard

Published by William Morrow and Company

3 Out of 5 Stars

This review, much like an Elmore Leonard novel, is destined to be short and to the point. As it should be.

Road Dogs picks up where the novel Out of Sight left off. In Out of Sight we were introduced to Jack Foley, a bank robber whose escape from prison leads to his "kidnap" of U.S. Marshal Karen Sisco. Star-crossed lovers far more interesting than Romeo and Juliet, Jack and Karen are a couple who are meant to be, but can never be. Watching the sparks fly between them and their ongoing banter made Out of Sight one of my favorite Leonard novels.

Road Dogs follows Jack Foley's life after Karen Sisco. When fellow inmate Cundo Rey (a wealthy Cuban with serious outside connections) pays for a high-powered attorney to help Jack reduce the 30 year sentence handed down by a judge aptly nicknamed "Maximum Bob" (for his propensity to always give the maximum sentencing allowed), Jack finds his sentence significantly reduced. And he also finds himself in debt to Cundo. As a result, Jack gets mixed up with Cundo's wife, Dawn Navarro, and various plots from conning a wealthy movie star to robbing Cundo himself. All the while, a zealous FBI agent is watching Jack's every move.

As with all Leonard novels, it's hard to track where the narrative will take us, which is always part of the fun. For me, however, the real joy in a Leonard novel comes from the dialogue. No one, and I mean no one, has a better ear for the natural rhythms of everyday speech than Leonard. He can develop entire characters simply based on their conversation. Little is needed in the way of physical description; you can take the measure of a character simply from the sound of his or her speech.

Despite all of this, this is not Leonard's best novel, but even a mediocre Leonard novel is better than most popular fiction out there today. Foley still comes across as the likable scamp of a bank thief, but it lacks the sizzle that came from his interaction with Karen Sisco. I did enjoy seeing Dawn Navarro again and thought her character is the most interesting in the book. A psychic with a real gift for seeing the future, she opts to make her living pulling cons and waiting to get her hands on Cundo's money. Her constantly shifting persona as she plays one man against another is like watching a reptile blend into its surroundings and waiting for its prey. I wouldn't mind seeing a book turn up in the near future strictly focused on her life after Road Dogs.

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