Elmore Leonard made George Clooney a movie star. And he’s written a few good books along the way, too. Clooney, of course, flopped as Batman and seemed to be striking out in his bid to transform himself from a famous TV E.R. doc into a box-office attraction.
What set him on the path to becoming Danny Ocean and countless other lovable rogues was his star turn as Jack Foley in 1998’s “Out of Sight,” an adaptation of one of Leonard’s numerous breezy, brilliant page turners.
Clooney’s iconic grinning grifter returns in Leonard’s latest book, Road Dogs, paired with two other revived characters: Cundo Rey (from “LaBrava”) and Dawn Navarro (“Riding the Rap”). And you can see the movie playing out even as you turn the pages. In this case, that’s a good thing.
We last saw Foley being shot in the leg by a beautiful federal marshal (and romantic interest), Karen Sisco. As “Road Dogs” begins, Foley is on his way back to Glades Correctional in a police van, riding with Rey. They’re both thinking about women: Karen Sisco in Foley’s case, Dawn Navarro in Rey’s.
It’s a cliché for reviewers to cite Leonard’s crisp dialogue, but impossible to avoid. “Road Dogs” offers an abundance of snappy verbal exchanges, such as the brief introduction between Foley and a bodyguard named Zorro. “Where’s your sword?” Foley asks.
“I’m a different Zorro,” comes the reply, followed by a Foley deadpan: “Is that right?”
As Leonard once put it, he goes easy on what Steinbeck referred to as the “hooptedoodle.” Weather, long-winded descriptions, scene-setting are all superfluous. Instead, the story glides along and, before you know it, it’s way past your bedtime but Jack Foley is too charming to shut off the lights just now.
In lieu of filler, Leonard revs the plot, dials up the banter, and gets out of the way. It looks effortless, much like Kobe Bryant ignoring the hands in his face while swishing an infinite series of turnaround jumpers.
Pardon me, I may have just engaged in a bit of hooptedoodle myself. After all, what you want to know is, what’s the story and should I buy this book? As for the latter, yes. Wait no longer (beyond finishing this review, of course).
As for the story, Cundo and Jack become pals, the “road dogs” of the title. So much so that Cundo, who has a financial empire awaiting him in southern California, offers to pay $30,000 so Jack can use Cundo’s hotshot attorney.
That leads to a 30-year sentence being shortened to three months – and sets Foley on a path to Cundo’s empty So Cal mansion, where he meets psychic and scammer Navarro. For Dawn, awaiting Cundo’s imminent release, the payoff is getting at Cundo’s portfolio.
You can see the mischief ready to ensue here: Foley , a sweetheart bank robber of some renown, tries to change his ways by throwing in with a scheming psychic (Dawn), a just-released fellow con (Cundo) and a slew of hangers-on (Zorro, et. al.). Rounding out the cast: Lou Adams, an obsessed South Florida FBI agent determined to cap his career by busting Foley.
This being a Leonard novel, even that setup fails to show how quirky and deceiving all involved are (and become). From fatal games of rooftop kickball to the inconvenience of storing corpses, the hits (literal and otherwise) keep on coming.
Let’s just hope Clooney and director Steven Soderbergh – the men behind “Out of Sight” – are ready to take on “Road Dogs” for an encore.
In the meantime, take a spin (or two) through the novel, just the latest evidence that when it comes to popular fiction, Elmore Leonard remains out of sight.
Erik Spanberg is a freelance writer in Charlotte, N.C.