“The post I dreaded to write, and you dreaded to read. Elmore passed away at 7:15 this morning from complications from his stroke. He was at home surrounded by his loving family,” the post on his page read.
Dubbed the “Dickens of Detroit,” Leonard applied his unembroidered, page-turning approach to 47 books, more than 20 of which were adapted for the screen — most recently with the FX drama series Justified. Though Leonard himself said, “I never had a really brilliant idea,” author Martin Amis said Leonard possessed “gifts…that even the most indolent and snobbish masters of the mainstream must vigorously covet.”
Born in New Orleans, Leonard had an itinerant childhood until 1934, when his father’s General Motors job settled the family in Detroit (where Leonard lived for the rest of his life). He began working at Campbell Ewald advertising in 1950, and started writing short stories, his first published in 1951. Leonard then churned out dime Westerns and crime fiction until 1985, when Glitz, his breakout best-seller, made his name for good.
Decades spent on just-under-the-radar writing honed his signature “absence of style” style, which was typified by his prevailing credo: “If it sounds like writing, I re-write it.” In the mid-to-late 1990s, the film versions of his books Get Shorty (with John Travolta), Rum Punch (Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown) and Out Of Sight (with George Clooney, a self-professed “huge fan”) expanded his popularity to new levels. The Mystery Writers of America gave him its Grand Master Award in 1992, and in 2008 he received the prestigious F. Scott Fitzgerald Award for Achievement in American Literature.
Leonard’s character-driven prose earned him a host of eminent admirers, from Walker Percy (“He’s as good as the blurbs say: ‘The greatest crime writer of our time, perhaps ever’”) to Stephen King, who said Leonard wrote “the kind of book that if you get up to see if there are any chocolate chip cookies left, you take it with you so you won’t miss anything.” —Kirven Blount