Reviews and Recommendations by Mel Odom, Professional Writer

ROAD DOGS by Elmore Leonard

Elmore Leonard Road Dogs

Man, Elmore Leonard has a warped and wicked family tree! I’m glad I don’t have to live with them, but I’m thrilled to read about them. For those of you that haven’t been reading Leonard’s work for the last thirty years as I have, I’m referring to his fictional family members that are strung throughout his novels.

I don’t know how Leonard manages to keep all of his characters straight, but then again I have no problem remembering who each one of them is when they come on stage. Even though several books and years have passed. Leonard’s characters live and breathe, and they become real to his loyal readers. Even when a surname is dropped in the course of a story, readers who’ve read several of Leonard’s novels can probably guess at parentage and familial links.

In Road Dogs, Leonard brings back three of his most memorable characters. Jack Foley is a bank robber from Out of Sight, and he even manages a cameo of Karen Sisco, the US Marshal that brought him down. George Clooney played Foley in the movie, and I could see him in the role in this novel.

Cundo Rey was the cat dancer from La Brava, the 128-pound killer who is always cool as ice and mean as a snake. He plays that role again in this novel, but he brings a lot of humor to the tale as well. I enjoyed reading about him as much as I worried about him turning on Foley at any moment.

Navarro Dawn is from Riding the Rap, the second Raylan Givens novel. There are also mentions of several other Leonard characters like Maximum Bob and Harry Arno. This book is a cornucopia of “family” photos for Leonard fans.

The plot almost seems too simple. Two inmates in prison hook up and become friends (Foley and Rey), and they decide to look out for each other. Foley doesn’t really care because he’s in for thirty years. However, Rey puts him with a brilliant lawyer and they get him out in a matter of months with time served. Suddenly Foley doesn’t know what to do with himself.

Then the complications set in. Rey wants Foley to go meet his common law wife, Dawn Navarro, who’s running psychic bunko scams. Of course, Dawn is the hottest thing Foley has seen in a long time, and there’s even a nude painting of her in his bedroom.

Little Jimmy is Rey’s business partner, even though he’s the one basically manufacturing all the profit. No one back home is looking forward to Cundo Rey’s release. Dawn tries to recruit Foley to help her get rid of Rey, but Foley isn’t a murderer – he’s the nation’s best known bank robber, a vocation he thinks he’d like to get out of with the way technology is advancing.

I had a blast with this book. The dialogue is rich and colorful, and the characters feel like real people – most of them people I don’t want in my everyday life. And there are a lot of twists and turns that end up being laugh-out-loud hilarious.

Watching Leonard play his shell game with all the characters and their various motivations and quirks is a treat. The set up takes a little longer in this novel than feels necessary, and the payoff comes almost abruptly, but it’s pure Leonard. And when the dust settles, the “family” isn’t quite the same.


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