RIP Elmore Leonard- The ‘Dickens of Detroit’

Author: Sherry Helms

elmoreThe legendary American crime novelist and screenwriter Elmore Leonard passed away on Tuesday at his home in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan following complications from a stroke at the age of 87.  

Born in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1925 the great crime novelist began his career in the Navy, where he served with the Seabees, just after graduating from the University of Detroit in 1943. His pared down style and sparse use of dialogue was admired by celebrated writers and his works left an indelible imprint on many film adaptations and popular crime genres. His many admirers had often dubbed Leonard as “The Dickens of Detroit” because of his intimate portrayal of people from the town.

Starting out his writing career in the early fifties, the prolific author Leonard—or “Dutch,” as he often called- wrote more than forty books a couple of screenplays. However, he got first giant success in 1951 when an American pulp magazine “Argosy” published his short story “Trail of the Apaches“. He wrote several short stories primarily in pulp Westerns. Eventually, he turned his writing to crime, and more topical genres, as well as screenwriting in the 1960 as he earned his status for creating memorable characters and strong dialogue.

He credited author George V. Higgins for inspiring him to write mystery novels. He often considered Ernest Hemingway as one of his leading inspirations, and simultaneously criticized Hemingway for sternness. Among his acclaimed works are “Get Shorty,” Hombre, “,”52 Pick Up” “Mr. Majestyk” and “Rum Punch,” which was adapted into a movie titled Jackie Brown. Two of his Western stories The Tall T and 3:10 to Yuma were translated into movies. His 1953 Western short story 3:10 to Yuma was remade into a film starring Russell Crowe in 2007 while his book The Switch being in production into a film starring Jennifer Aniston and Tim Robbins is scheduled to debut this year as Life of Crime. His gallant character US Marshal Raylan Givensm, inspired the current TV series on FX, “Justified.”

He won numerous awards including the Grand Master Edgar Award in 1992, the Louisiana Writer Award in 2006, the F Scott Fitzgerald award in 2008, and Peabody Award for his FX’s Justified in 2011. He received the PEN USA Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009. Leonard said he did not intend to end his life’s work after achieving further National Book Award lifetime achievement last year .

Commended by critics for his sly, calm, humorous and sometimes surprising voice, Mr. Leonard at times took liberties with language rules in the concern of pacing with the story. His “10 Rules for Writing” published in the New York Times in 2001, contained such constructive admonishments that are essential to any serious author and editor. His 10 rules should be pinned above the writing desk of everyone who terms himself or herself a writer.  

He survived by five children– three daughters and two sons, all born from his first wife Beverly Claire Cline before divorcing in 1977, as well as 13 grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren. He married and divorced his third wife Christine in 2012. At the time of his hospitalization for a stroke earlier this month, he was working on his yet another novel.

Our earnest condolences and best wishes go out to Leonard’s family, colleagues and fans all around the world.

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