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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
When I first heard that Elmore Leonard was writing a sequel to Get Shorty, I wondered if he saw the irony in such a book. Here was Leonard making fun of Hollywood, yet doing just what Hollywood always does — creating a sequel to a successful property.
Well, not only was Leonard aware of that irony, that irony is the central theme of Be Cool. Our friend Chili Palmer, former gangster, is back in L.A. again, this time in the music business. If there is a business sleazier, dumber, and more duplicitous than the movie business, it's got to be the music business. Chili feels right at home.
The principal story line concerns Chili's attempts to create a hit movie and thus become a major Hollywood player again. But being an ironist — and borrowing a technique from the great Italian playwright Pirandello — Chili begins to see how his own life can become a great movie. Gangsters, music-biz pimps/executives/clowns, luckless bodyguards — the whole sick crew of music biz and movie biz are at his disposal. Some of them love him; some of them want to kill him; sensibly, none of them trust him.
This is Leonard's most overtly comic novel, and certainly one of his most artistically successful. If Evelyn Waugh and Nathanael West had ever collaborated on a novel about La-La-Land, you'd have something like Be Cool.
Like West, Leonard is poised midway between scorn and pity when looking at his own particular ship of fools. I keep thinking of Dennis Farina's performance in Get Shorty. The guy's a jerk and a menace, yet you can't help feeling justabit sorry for him — and the same for the Gene Hackman character — because he's so stupid.
One senses that with this book Leonard has moved beyond the crime novel per se. It'll be interesting to see where he takes us next. I'll probably always be partial to some of his earlier stuff — 52 Pick-UP, Unknown Man No. 89, Valdez Is Coming — but at the same time I have to acknowledge that Leonard is taking the kind of artistic risks few popular novelists would ever dare.
It will also be interesting to see what his innumerable imitators will make of this book. Will they also become dark satirists? One hopes not. Only Elmore Leonard himself could have pulled this novel off. His imitators shouldn't even give it a try.—Ed Gorman
Ed Gorman's latest novels include The Day the Music Died, Daughter of Darkness, Harlot's Moon, and Black River Falls, the latter of which proves "Gorman's mastery of the pure suspense novel," says Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. ABC-TV has optioned the novel as a movie. Gorman is also the editor of Mystery Scene Magazine, which Stephen King calls "indispensable" for mystery readers.