The smallest of small-time criminals, Ernest Stickley Jr. figures his luck's about to change when Detroit used-car salesman Frank Ryan catches him trying to boost a ride from Ryan's lot. Frank's got some surefire schemes for getting rich quick - all of them involving guns - and all Stickley has to do is follow "Ryan's Rules" to share the wealth. But sometimes rules need to be bent, maybe even broken, if one is to succeed in the world of crime, especially if the "brains" of the operation knows less than nothing.
©2009 Elmore Leonard (P)2010 HarperCollins Publishers
I love Elmore Leonard, and his books are almost more fun to listen to than to read, especially when the narration is as superb as Frank Muller's. These are not sophisticated, serpentine whodunits. They are really more character driven than plot oriented. But Leonard has such an engaging and economical way of characterization that you feel these people really exist -- a feeling enhanced by a narrator who makes each character come alive.
But I write for myself, for my own pleasure. And I want to be left alone to do it. - J.D. Salinger ^(;,;)^
"After the first few weeks he began to take it in stride. They were pros, that's why it was easy." - Elmore Leonard, Swag
I've read/listened to/watched several of Leonard's 90s crime novels (Get Shorty, Out of Sight, etc) but recently I was given Elmore Leonard's 'Four Novels of the 1970s' (Library of America) for my birthday and decided to start with 'Swag'. It was great, gritty Detroit crime fiction. So, in honor of this novel, here are ten rules for Detroit hardboiled fiction:
1. There needs to be a list of rules.
2. There has to be multiple women.
3. There has to be some racial tension.
4. The book can't be longer than 250 pages
5. Dialogue must be both funny and sharp.
6. There needs to be several twists.
7. Drugs and alcohol must be consumed or discussed.
8. There has to be several exit ramps that are missed.
9. Cars have to play a role, even if minor.
10. All rules must eventually be broken.
I am a 65-year-old psychologist, married for 25 years, with two sons who are 25 and 22. I love reviewing the books and the feedback I get.
Swag is the story of Ernest Stickley, Stick, and Frank Ryan. Yes, that's right, Frank and Ernest. These two guys rob 32 stores in three months, and think it's easy. Then they get together with a hustler named Sportree and his sidekick Leon Woody, and the four of them plus a guy named Bobby Ruiz, and they plan a robbery of J.L. Hudson, one of the largest department stores in Detroit. The robbery goes badly wrong, with a witness and Bobby Ruiz dying. The noose begins to tighten on Frank and Ernest. Both of them have been romancing several "career girls" in the apartment complex they live in. They party hearty. Stolen money and booze fuels a lifestyle which they love, but Stick wants out, knowing that the ride has to stop sometime. Leonard is not at his absolute best here, but, again, the combination of the two of these guys, Leonard and Muller, is just plain fun. Along the way Stick has to kill four guys, which is clearly not what he has intended at all. Stick is a recurring character, with a book named after him, and we know that he is not a killer, actually just a lost man who gets pulled in very easily. Once again the pace quickens as only Leonard and Muller can rev it up. I won't spoil the end. If you listen to the book, you'll love it. Leonard always leaves you wanting more.
The two primary characters are small time robbers (grocery stores, liquor stores, bars) who ride out their luck until they fall in with some serious guys. They were not particularly appealing personalities to me. I appreciate that they did not intend to hurt anyone, but they are so careless and thoughtless that the inevitable happens.
The women are not as one-dimensional as some reviewers believe - there are a few women who really move the story forward. The "career girls" by the pool were a 1970s reality - looking for a bit of fun until they had to settle down. Teachers, clerks, models and other career girls were the ones who could afford to live independently in a singles apartment complex. They were as superficial in their relationships as the guy next door, even if that guy was a petty criminal.
These two guys, however, are not suave and slickly charming; they are insecure, whiny and weak. No one in the book was interesting enough for me to care what happened to them. Many much better Elmore Leonard novels out there (Get Shorty and Pronto come to mind)
Speculative fiction is my genre. Narrative voice (the voice the author wrote the tale in) is very important to me. I love good dialogue.
Dialogue. Leonard's characters sound about as real as it gets.
The primary protagonist.
Muller's laid-back suspicious tone is a perfect marriage to Leonard's crime characters.
Muller and Leonard are such a good combination, that I started looking at other titles they have together.
Two lowlifes realize they can make a comfortable living doing low-level armed robberies of grocery and liquor stores. They get an apartment in a swingers apartment complex and throw parties with lots of booze, sex and Mantovani records. Then they get bored and try for one big score that will set them for a year. The book was written in 1976, and the white male main characters are products of their time: sexist and racist. Leonard himself seems respectful of the black characters, even if the white characters have to remind themselves not to use the N-word in their company. But he treats the female characters as less significant in every way. That said, the plot is good and dialogue excellent. Bechdel test: fail.
He should learn how people fom Detroit pronounce the street names. And he just sounds so sarcastic all the time. The characters are lousers enough, then his interpretations makes them worse.
I tried and tried with this book. I kept thinking it would get better. But the characters and their attitudes and activities are repulsive in a way. Boring, for certain. Couldn't finish it. A waste of money and time. I listened to one Leonard book and enjoyed it. Then a second which was just ok. But this one, yuk. I'm from Detroit, so the narrator's mispronunciations of the streets and areas was annoying. Would it be so hard to get it authentic?
Muller is simply superb. He always sounds like himself, but he has a great range of inflections so you recognize different characters. Plus, he always sounds good.
This is Elmore Leonard, so you know it's well done. Still, hardboiled as it often is, the setting is very much dated, and that starts to distract from the whole. It's worth remembering, too, that this is still fairly early Leonard, before the lighter-hearted work of Get Shorty. It's certainly worth reading this one, but temper your expectations. It's about a couple of pros setting out to commit crimes as pros, and that feels more or less like the challenge Leonard set out for himself as he wrote it: understated professional writing.
Yes! I thought Frank Muller did a great job switching between the main characters of Stick and Frank.
It reminds me of Tishamingo Blues because the main characters are criminals. Some of Leonard's books focus on good guys and some focus on bad guys, but they all have tough chicks.
Wheel man + con man = hold up men!
I had never heard or seen this Leonard title before I found it on Audible.com, and I didn't expect to be too impressed. It was certainly a nice surprise.
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