Aug 09 2008

Stick, by Elmore Leonard

Rating: ★★★½☆

I only recently discovered Leonard’s books, after reading quite a few by other authors in the same genre (what I think of as “tough guys who do what needs to be done without whining about it”), like Mickey Spillane, Ian Fleming, John Sandford, and Ed McBain. Leonard seems to tend toward the “edgier” end of the spectrum, with plenty of truly unsavory bad guys and heroes with plenty of flaws themselves. The world of these books is a seedy place, where very few people put anything else ahead of their own immediate gratification.

This book, and its protagonist,named Stick, are better than most. Stick, recently released after serving seven years on an armed robbery charge, has enough doubts to make him seem more real than the unreasonably confident James Bond types. He seems to want to go straight, but honestly isn’t sure how that’s done. (His first impulse, when trying to figure out how to go visit his little girl, is to steal a car.) He ends up (mostly) doing the right thing because the bad guys are so stupid and offensive, not because that’s how he plans it. It’s a good mix that makes him a likable character and more memorable than most in the genre, who are easily forgotten when one puts the book down.

The other characters are also well-drawn and easy to keep track of–something that’s important in pulp novels a reader can devour in a long afternoon. Chucky, Moke, Barry, and Nestor are all complete individuals; sometimes a bit over the top (or a lot in Chucky’s case), but always interesting. The women are fairly one-dimensional, which is typical in these books that are clearly written for men.

This is my first review, so I may decide on a different scoring system eventually, but for now I’m giving this one 3.5 out of 5 points. That’s pretty good for this kind of book: an adventure/thriller that’s only trying to be a fun, engaging read, and not trying to make any big points or do a ton of character development. I’d recommend it to anyone who likes the authors I mentioned above; but if you think Bond movies are macho and violent, take a pass on this one.

(Whatever scale I use, I’ll use it all. This won’t be like the Olympics, where even the guy who falls down gets a 9.3 on a 10-point scale. Whenever possible, I’ll include a link to buy the book, which will pay me a few cents if you use it, so feel free to do so!)

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