THE HOT KID BY ELMORE LENORD

April 11, 2017


BIOGRAPHY:

Born in Louisiana in 1925, Elmore Leonard was inspired by Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front. Leonard’s determination to be a writer stayed with him through a stint in the U.S. Navy and a job in advertising. His early credits include mostly Westerns, including 3:10 to Yuma. When that genre became less popular, Leonard turned to crime novels set in Detroit, Michigan, including Get ShortyJackie Brown and Out of Sight. The prolific writer died in Detroit on August 20, 2013, at age 87.

Famed Western/crime novelist Elmore John Leonard Jr. was born on October 11, 1925, in New Orleans, Louisiana. The early part of Leonard’s youth was largely defined by his family’s constant moves, which were the result of his father’s job as a site locator for General Motors. Not long after his 9th birthday, however, Leonard’s family found a permanent home in Detroit, Michigan.

It was in Detroit that Leonard got hooked on a serialization of the Erich Maria Remarque novel All Quite on the Western Front in the Detroit Times. The book became an inspiration for Leonard, who decided he wanted to try fiction writing as well. He wrote his first play that same year, when he was in fifth grade, and would go on to write for his high school paper.

After graduating from high school in 1943 and serving three subsequent years in the U.S. Navy, Leonard returned home and enrolled at the University of Detroit. As a college student, he pushed himself to write more, and graduated in 1950 with a dual degree in English and philosophy. Still an unknown, however, Leonard didn’t have the means to strike out on his own as a writer. Instead, he found work with an advertising agency, using his off time to draft stories—many of them Westerns.

When the popular demand for Westerns waned in the 1960s, Leonard focused on a new genre: crime. With stories often set against the gritty background of his native Detroit, Leonard’s crime novels, complete with rich dialogue and flawed central characters, earned the writer a group of dedicated readers. It wasn’t until the 1980s, however, that Leonard truly became a star. The man who never got enough publicity buzz, according to his fans, was suddenly appearing everywhere. In 1984, he landed on the cover of Newsweek under the label the “Dickens of Detroit.” Hollywood came calling shortly after, and many of Leonard’s novels were adapted into movies, including the crime smashes Get Shorty and Jackie Brown.

THE HOT KID:

That’s where we come in.  The title “HOT KID” refers to young Deputy U.S. Marshal Carl Webster, a quick-drawing, incredibly slick young man who wants to become the most famous lawman west of the Mississippi, and does little to hide his vanity. At fifteen (15) years of age, Webster witnessed the vicious Emmet Long shooting an officer in a drugstore robbery, but what rankled him the most is that Long snatched away Webster’s peach ice-cream cone and called him a “greaser.” Webster gets his revenge six years later by making Long the first in what will become an impressive list of vanquished outlaws, and he seals his fame with a cool catchphrase: “If I have to pull my weapon, I’ll shoot to kill.” (Funny how often he “has” to pull it.) Webster’s chief rival is Jack Belmont, the black-hearted son of an oil millionaire who’s out to show up his dad by knocking off more banks than Pretty Boy Floyd. Both stand to gain from the purple pen of Tony Antonelli, a True Detective magazine writer who follows the story as it develops, and plans to stretch his two-cents-a-word bounty to the limit.

In the “The Hot Kid” , bank robbers have become so common that “thief” seems close to a legitimate occupation, right alongside gun moll, bootlegger, and prostitute. Set over thirteen (13) years in ’20s and ’30s Oklahoma and Kansas City, the book is populated by characters looking to make names for themselves, joining legends like Bonnie and Clyde, Machine Gun Kelly, and John Dillinger in headlines and crime magazines across the country. In this world, notoriety means more than money, and that counts for figures on both sides of the law, who engage in a game of one-upmanship that has little to do with the usual interests of crime or justice. Though Leonard doesn’t sketch them as broadly as the colorful hoods found in his contemporary crime novels, the ambitions of these larger-than-life characters take on infectiously comical dimensions.

READER COMMENTS:

I certainly enjoyed the book and must admit it was my first Elmore Lenord read.  I do NOT know why I have not stumbled upon his works before since he has written eighty-seven books.  I think his is an acquired taste.  There is absolutely no doubt, at least in my mind, about his writing ability.  The very fact he has remained a “top read” over the years is a testament to his style being accepted by most avid readers.  He is concise and brief with rhetoric. He knows how to paint a story and keep the reader interesting.  This is not one of those books you cannot put down, but it is one you definitely want to finish.  In changing from Westerns to Crime, he maintains your interest to the point you really must find out how the darn thing ends.  I can definitely recommend “The Hot Kid” to you. It’s fairly short and will involve a couple of days on and off or your time.  READ IT.

I like to include reviews of others who have read this book.  I do this frequently. Remember, there is not much difference between a lump of coal and a diamond.  Everyone has their own perspective and that’s what I like to do with the comments below.

DAVID:   FOUR STAR:  My first Elmore Leonard novel. He’s a terse, pacey author, and The Hot Kid is pretty much Hollywood in a book, but a nicely-filmed Hollywood with engaging if not terribly deep characters.

ANDREW P:   FOUR STAR:  This book came to my attention in an unusual way. I just listened to the audible version of NOS4A2 by Joe Hill and at the end the author gives some recommendations on audio books. ‘The Hot Kid’ was one that he praised so I used my next audible credit on it.

EVA SMITH:  FIVE STAR:   In one of life’s little coincidences, I was sorting through books and came across two by Elmore Leonard. I’d read them so long ago that I’d forgotten most of the plot points and the writing was so good that I gave both of them a re-read. Mr. Leonard picked that week to die so I saw it as a sign that I should seek out more of his books. Just finished “The Hot Kid.” Excellent.

BENJAMIN THOMAS:  FIVE STAR:  Elmore Leonard is a writer after my own heart. He started with westerns and then turned to crime fiction, becoming one of the best-selling crime fiction writers of all time. When I saw the audio book, “The Hot Kid” on the library shelves this time, I just couldn’t pass it up because I knew I’d be in for a treat. I also needed a relatively short book this time so I could complete it before the end of the year.

JEFF DICKSON:  FIVE STAR:  A really, really good tale by Leonard. Story is of a hot shot U.S. Marchall (sp) in Oklahoma and Kansas City area during the depression years and one particular inept criminal he goes after. Highly recommended.

STEVE:  TWO STAR:  This might be my last Leonard novel. Starts out strong, but then the conversations begin sounding familiar. This is probably a good beach book for some, but I found that the writing was a bit too breezy, the dialogue a bit too hip. At this point in his career, I’m tempted to say Leonard can write these in his sleep, but there’s some nice historical details that shows he’s not on auto-pilot. For those who like Leonard, and his period pieces, check out a lesser known title, The Moonshine War.

As always, I welcome your comments.

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