Reading Elmore Leonard’s genre fiction, you were never sure who the hero was. It could be a mobbed-up loan shark (Chili Palmer in Get Shorty), a badge-carrying U.S. marshal with a felon for a father (Raylan Givens in Pronto), or even a flight attendant smuggling cash for a black-market gunrunner (Jackie Burke in Rum Punch). Leonard, who died Tuesday of complications from a stroke at age 87, never shied away from moral ambiguity. And his zippy, dialogue-driven prose style made him a favorite of readers and filmmakers alike.
Born in New Orleans, Leonard spent a nomadic childhood with his father, a dealership site locator for General Motors. Then in 1934, three pivotal events shaped Leonard’s future: His family settled in Detroit, the Tigers made it to the World Series (and won the title the following year), and the twentysomething gangsters Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow ended their two-year, headline-grabbing crime spree with a deadly police ambush in northern Louisiana. Leonard became a lifelong devotee of crime stories, sports, and the Motor City — which he continued to call home until the end.
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