Elmore Leonard, a masterful crime novelist whose razor-sharp dialogue and indelibly realized lowlifes earned him an unusual mix of mass-market appeal and highbrow acclaim, died Tuesday at his home in Bloomfield Township, Mich. He was 87.
The cause was complications from a stroke, said his researcher, Gregg Sutter.
A diligent, unpretentious writer who worked in relative obscurity for many years, Leonard went on to influence a generation of crime writers, whose sales may have eclipsed his but whose adoration of him never waned.
His lean, violent stories also served up choice film vehicles for actors including Paul Newman (Hombre), John Travolta (Get Shorty), George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez (Out of Sight), Charles Bronson (Majestyk), Roy Scheider (52 Pick-Up) and Pam Grier (Jackie Brown).
What made Leonard stand out among other chroniclers of crime and punishment was his voice – laconic, funny, unsentimental – and his ruthlessly coherent vision of life in the lower depths. As described in a 2008 Washington Post profile, Leonard’s world is populated by cops who aren’t exactly good, crooks who aren’t exactly bad, and women who have an eye for the in-between.
Leonard was a quiet, reserved, owlishly bespectacled man who lived in the Detroit suburbs and sported Kangol caps and tweed jackets.
Although critics tended to lump him into the hard-boiled detective school of Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler and Ross McDonald, Leonard resisted the tag of mystery writer, pointing out that his work lacks anything in the way of puzzles.
I develop characters, and I’m not sure where they’re going until I get to know them. In fact, I seldom know before I’m halfway through what the thing is about.