Way back at the beginning of the year, I made a pledge to read 25 books this year. I am, uh, a scotch behind on that pledge–I think I have to knock out three a month now to hit it–but one of the books that I did manage to get to this summer was Elmore Leonard’s new one, “The Hot Kid.” I started reading it as part of a book club on The Isotope message boards, but for whatever reasons that club fizzled out mighty quick. Anyway, the verdict–reliably fine writing from Mr. Leonard, who to me is the Greg Maddux of literature: he ain’t the flashiest, he ain’t the splashiest, but when you look back at his career, and when you look at what he’s still putting out…damn, he’s good.

“The Hot Kid” is the story of one Carl (nee’ Carlos) Webster, a U.S. marshal with a steel spine, a deadeye aim, and a before-his-time approach to marketing oneself. Set in 1920s Oklahoma, the book follows Carl as he tracks Triple-A-level crook Jack Belmont and runs afoul of all the gangsters, cops, and chicks that Jack leaves in his wake. Carl is often shadowed by a reporter from True Detective magazine, and has coined his own catchphrase: “If I have to pull my weapon–I’m shooting to kill.” One of the nice touches of the book is the way Carl thinks through his delivery of the line, once deciding not to say anything because he figures he might not be able to carry out his promise. There’s plenty of bankrobbing, tough-talking, ambushing, and gun-moll-loving, and Leonard effectively plugs us into a world where guys like Dillinger and Pretty Boy Floyd are beyond heroes–they’re gods. There’s a bit of the “Huh. How about that. Well…all right, then.” to the finale, but that may be more my fault as a nicely-conditioned everything’s-gotta-end-with-the-apocalypse media consumer than Leonard’s.

Bottom line: solid book, and like most of Leonard’s work it would/will make a fine flick (he’s the writer of books that became Jackie Brown, Get Shorty, Out of Sight, and several others). I can already see the sepia-toned long shots of Hoover-era Tulsa streets right now.


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