Thursday, April 14, 2011

Road Dogs Is A Leonard Underdog

Road DogsWhile some people considered Out Of Sight with George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez an underrated film, it's the slightly lesser-known story Road Dogs that casts character Jack Foley (last seen headed to prison for 30 years) as an enduring figure. Its quick and dirty dialogue is read with an authenticity that entertains as every con in the book, including rogue FBI agent Lou Adams, tries to find an angle.

The book picks up almost to the minute where it left off. Foley befriends crime boss Cundo Rey, another character known from Elmore Leonard's ultra realistic LaBrava, in the van headed toward the place they will serve out their respective terms. From that point forward, the two forge a mutual friendship with Foley using his charm and Rey using his cash and connections to serve their time incident free.

Road Dogs is a game where everyone plays with duplicity.

While some people ping the story for having a weaker plot than some of Leonard's other work, this mechanism is precisely why the story works. Although Foley is clearly the protagonist, every character follows their own plot line, much like life. There isn't so much of a central plot as multiple plot points of view, each with an independent direction.

After Rey recommends his attorney and fronts Foley $30,000 in attorney fees, Foley finds his sentence reduced to a mere 30 months. Because the early release gives Foley an opportunity to be released before his benefactor, Rey suggests the celebrity bank robber stay in one of his multi-million dollar homes in Venice Beach, Calif.

Their points of view construct the first two minor plot lines woven together. Foley appreciates the friendship but expects Rey will want something in return. Likewise, Rey values the friendship, but tends to test the loyalty of everyone around him.

What would a bank robber do after you give him 30 years back?

Foley's test is waiting for him when he arrives in Venice Beach, where he meets an attractive young psychic named Dawn Navaro. Navaro, who also appears in Leonard's Riding The Rap, has been eagerly awaiting Rey's release from prison for eight years. More exactly, she has been waiting to con Rey out of his fortune.

She has already been working every possible angle, including Rey's partner Jimmy Rios, who handles the books and is supposed to keep an eye on Navaro, and Tico Sandoval, a semi-reformed gang banger who is also recruited by Agent Adams. Adams, naturally, has his own agenda. He is certain that Foley will be back in the bank robbing business at the first opportunity.

Navaro has plenty of half-baked plans to cash out millions. When Foley arrives, she adds him to her possible playbook by reinforcing his worst fears. According to Navaro, Rey considers him an investment. In actuality, Rey is more interested in seeing Foley make a new living, perhaps as a partner in one of Navaro's psychic cons. The mark is recently widowed actress Danialle Karmanos.

The exceedingly impressive rap sheet of Elmore Leonard.

Elmore LeonardElmore Leonard originally made his mark writing westerns (3:10 to Yuma and The Tall T) in the 1950s before becoming increasingly interested in crime fiction and suspense thrillers. Most people know his later work — 52 Pick-Up, Get Shorty, Out of Sight, Hombre, Mr. Majestyk, Rum Punch (a.k.a. Jackie Brown), and Killshot (more than 30 films, 40 novels, and countless stories). He has also written two television series, including the short-lived Maximum Bob, Karen Sisco and Justified.

Sisco makes a minor appearance in Road Dogs, but is more often referred to than played out. Even more remarkable, Leonard's newest novel (Djibouti) marked his 60th year of writing fiction. And, much like Road Dogs, proves time and time again he has no interest in slowing down. If anything, he is speeding up, with his work seldom hinting at anything but the energy and veracity that cause newer writers to struggle.

Road Dogs By Elmore Leonard Takes A Bite At 4.9 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Road Dogs is a breezy, entertaining read with Leonard's incessant comfortability with dialogue over action. Here, he is obviously at home with four characters (and one cameo character) already fully fleshed out from previous books. Amazingly, although their paths unexpectedly cross, they remain true to form not only in their characters, but also at different points of development. Certainly not his finest, but all the more enjoyable as an underdog story.

Road Dogs: A Novel can be found on Amazon or in print from Barnes & Noble. However, anyone who wants to experience Leonard at his best ought to consider the audio adaption of Road Dogs from iTunes. Peter Francis James packs every sentence with all the assuredness and aloofness anyone might expect from Jack Foley and the brazen matter-of-factness of Cundo Rey.
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