The Complete Western Stories of Elmore Leonard

I first discovered Elmore Leonard as a teenager when the movie version of GET SHORTY came out.  I loved the movie so much that I read the book, then fell in love even more with Leonard’s no-nonsense writing style, crackling dialogue, and twisty underworld crime plots.  This sent me on a hunt to gobble up as many of Leonard’s crime novels as I could find.  RUM PUNCH, MAXIMUM BOB, KILL SHOT, OUT OF SIGHT, and so on and so on and so on.

I had been aware that Leonard started as a Western writer, but had never really been interested in the genre and skipped over that part of his bibliography. I’m not sure why, but Westerns just never really appealed to me.  Maybe because I didn’t grow up anywhere near cowboys and horses and I thought most Western movies I had seen as a kid were kinda boring. So I would read new Leonard books as they came out, but never looked backwards.

Then about five years ago I was walking through a book store and there it was sitting on a shelf.  THE COMPLETE WESTERN STORIES OF ELMORE LEONARD.  First published in 2004, the collection contained 30 stories mostly from the 1950’s Leonard had written for dime store magazines.  On a whim, I bought the book and cracked it open – and I was SO glad I did.

All the aforementioned aspects of Leonard’s writings were there, but set in an Old West riddled with fast-talking bandits and danger.  Not only did I love the stories, the book made me finally appreciate the genre itself.  What Westerns allowed were total isolation.  Being stuck off in some remote, lawless part of the country where characters had to figure out how to use their wits to get out of sticky situations themselves, because no one else was going to come rescue them any time soon.  And often even the “good guys” were not to be trusted and the “bad guys” the real heroes.   I then went on a Western kick, and when it came time for me finally hunker down to write my first novel, I decided to go with a modern-day Western story myself (and also used Leonard’s great “10 Rules for Good Writing.” Look them up!)  All thanks to this one collection.

I can’t recommend THE COMPLETE WESTERN STORIES OF ELMORE LEONARD enough, whether you’re a fan of Westerns or not.   And fans of Raylan Givens – the U.S. Marshal who appears in PRONTO, RIDING THE RAP, RAYLAN, and the tv show Justified – will definitely get a kick of the stories, many protoypes for backwoods crime figures hiding within.

And for a real treat seek out the audio book.  It contains 11 of the stories  – read by David Straithairn, Tom Wopat, William Atheron, and Henry Rollins – yes HENRY ROLLINS.  It’s like the audio book producers did a casting call for the four most gravely-voiced tough guys out there.  It’s an amazing listen, especially for long car trips through the desert.

Todd Berger
Todd Berger hails from New Orleans, Louisiana and currently works as a screenwriter, actor, and director in Los Angeles. He is the writer/director of the feature films THE SCENESTERS and IT’S A DISASTER and currently has projects in development at The Jim Henson Company, MGM, and Millennium Films. His debut novel, SHOWDOWN CITY, was released earlier this month.