As the acclaim for Elmore Leonard's comic crime novels has grown over the past 10 years or so, I've found myself enjoying them less. It isn't that Leonard has lost anything as a craftsman, or that his near-ventriloquist's gift for dialogue has become any less sharp. It's just that the mantle of wily entertainer he'd acquired took the edge off the satisfying, mordant grittiness of earlier books like Split Images or Unknown Man #89. Leonard sacrificed thrills for laughs, instead of combining them as the late, great Ross Thomas did, or as the brazenly entertaining Carl Hiassen still does.
But hallelujah: Out of Sight is, for my money at least, Leonard's most satisfying book in a long time. Of all the damn things, it's a romantic comedy. Leonard follows the genre rules as well as any writer of shaggy-dog noirs could: Boy and girl meet, think they're wrong for each other (though we know they're a dream match) and spend the rest of the book discovering that they're just the perfect blendship. And that takes some doing, because she, Karen Sisco, is a U.S. Marshall, and he, Jack Foley, is America's most prolific bank robber. They meet when Jack stuffs Karen into the trunk of her Chevy Caprice during a prison break. While he's crammed in alongside her for the ride (and behaving like a perfect gentleman, too), the pair discover they talk easy together, and once parted find that, for them, out of sight does not mean out of mind.
Leonard's repartee has a casual wit, and he expertly pulls off hair-trigger turns of mood (a home invasion by some of Foley's less-principled associates is particularly frightening). Among the book's modest pleasures is the relationship between Karen and her dad, himself a private investigator, who treats Karen with a father's affectionate, protective annoyance, an older colleague's respect for a talented newcomer and a drinking buddy's trust: "They were on the patio with Jack Daniels over ice, the sun going down. Her dad had told her often enough it was Walter Huston's favorite time of day in The Virginian and Walter was right. This evening he didn't mention it." The whole book goes down that easy. To borrow a line from the screenwriter Robert Getchell, "Sip it slow and the world stays sweet." -- Salon
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Publisher's Weekly gave a starred review to this story of romance between a cop and a con.
Leonard, still basking in the success of the movie version of his novel Get Shorty (Delacorte, 1990), here tells of a bank robber and the federal marshal who pursues him.
School Library Journal
This novel stands out for two reasons: one is Deputy U.S. Marshal Karen Sisco and the other is the sense of untarnished justice. A 29-year-old Florida native, Karen wears Chanel suits and carries a Sig Sauer .38 pistol as her "evening-wear piece." She also carts around leg irons, handcuffs, and a pump-action shotgun in the trunk of her car. She will use the weapons if necessary, and fearlessly, but its her brain that is her primary weapon. While waiting to serve a summons at Florida's Glades Prison, she meets Jack Foley, bank robber, escaping from a tunnel. He and his ex-con friend, Buddy, who is waiting for him, toss her in the trunk of her car. Foley climbs in with her and the story begins. Jack is attracted to Karen; admires her wit, courage, and knowledge of old movies; and wonders what might have happened if they had met under "different circumstances." Karen finds herself unaccountably attracted to him, as well, but she always sees him for exactly what he is. Nevertheless, she escapes, Foley and Buddy go on to become involved in a crime beyond their control, and Karen relentlessly tracks their movements. Young Adults will enjoy this fast-paced novel that features a heroine who is a delightful stereotype breaker.
-- Carol DeAngelo, formerly at Fairfax County Public Library, VA
If it's Elmore Leonard, there's bound to be an edge: comedy threatening to turn tragic as characters try to scratch itches they can't quite reach. This time there's so much scratching, you'd think the story was set in a swamp. Actually, it begins in one, as legendary bank robber Jack Foley escapes from prison in Florida's Everglades only to find himself in the trunk of a car alongside federal marshall Karen Sisco, an involuntary participant. Jack has been in prison a long time so the idea of being squashed up against an attractive female, even in less than ideal circumstances, has its merits, while Karen, who's always had a fondness for courting danger, feels a little frisson herself. Both escape the trunk without damage, leaving Karen to track Jack on the road to Detroit, ostensibly to apprehend him but maybe to get to know him better. Jack is even more smitten, so much so that while he's supposed to be helping a couple of con cronies plan a quick score in the Detroit suburbs, he's actually daydreaming about what it would have been like if he'd met Karen in a more conventional way. There's the edge that drives this exhilarating if melancholy tragicomedy: the yearning to be somebody else, to be able to do it a different way. Jack reminds Karen of Harry Dean Stanton in Repo Man: "both real guys who seemed tired of who they were, but couldn't do anything about it." You don't have to be a bank robber to feel that way, of course, which is why an Elmore Leonard edge cuts in several directions. A modern master still cruising at the top of his form.
Leonard's criminal farces tend to get derailed when his hero is a lady (Maximum Bob, 1991, etc.), and it happens again in his 33rd novel, a sweetly meandering fantasy spun out of the cutest meeting on record.
Legendary bank robber Jack Foley has worked out an ingenious prison break. He'll blow the whistle on José Chirino's crowd tunneling under the perimeter fence, promote a guard's uniform, go through the tunnel himself, and head straight for his old pal Buddy Bragg, waiting with a getaway car. But Buddy's brought along car thief Glenn Michaels, and deputy US marshal Karen Sisco, who knows Glenn by sight, also happens to be on the scene. She pulls a shotgun on Foley, who loses his heart to her after Buddy disarms her and he's stashed in the trunk with her for the getaway. Before they part, he gallantly tells her to "have your clothes cleaned and send me the bill." Karen can't believe the nerve of this guy, but thenafter she gets a slot on the task force that has tracked Foley to Detroit, where he and his increasingly violent playmates plan to kidnap moneyed ex-con inside trader Richard Ripleyshe starts to fall for him, too. Leonard has a lot of lazy fun setting up a cockeyed array of good guys (like Karen's p.i. father Marshall, who worries that her stakeouts with Florida state cop Ray Nicolet are too much like dates) and bad (such as the homicidal Maurice "Snoopy" Miller and his brother Kenneth, who likes to tussle with females). But for all the hip, loco dialogue he scatters as Karen and Foley improve their relationship while plotting against each other like Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd, he never really seems to have his heart in this caper.
A master coasting is still a master, but nobody will take this for top-drawer Leonard.
The Detroit News
“An absolute master.”
The New York Times Book Review
“Elmore Leonard is an awfully good writer of the sneaky sort; he is so good you don’t even notice what he’s up to.”
Read an Excerpt
Karen thought they'd put her inside and leave and she felt around to find her handgun, quick, the Sig Sauer, before they closed the trunk lid and she'd have to kick at it and yell until someone let her out. There, she felt the holster, slipped the pistol out and closed her hand around the grip ready to go for it, six hollow points in the magazine and one in the throat, ready to come around shooting if she had to. But now the one in the filthy guard uniform gave her a shove and was getting in with hershe couldn't believe itcrawling in to wedge her between the wall of the trunk and his body pressed against her back, like they were cuddled up in bed, the guy bringing his arm around now to hold her to him, and she didn't have room to turn and stick the gun in his face.
The trunk lid came down and they were in darkness, total, not a crack or pinpoint of light showing, dead silent until the engine came to life, the car moving now, turning out of the lot to the road that went out to the highway. Karen pictured it, remembering the orange grove and a maintenance building, then farther along the road frame houses and yards where some of the prison personnel lived.
His voice in the dark, breathing on her, said, "You comfy?"
The con acting cool, nothing to lose. Karen was holding the Sig Sauer between her thighs, protecting it, her skirt hiked up around her hips. She said, "If I could have a little more room..."
"There isn't any."
She wondered if she could get her feet against the front wall, push off hard and twist at the same time and shove the gun into him.
Maybe. But then what?
She said, "I'm not much of a hostage if no one knows I'm here."
She felt his hand move over her shoulder and down her arm.
"You aren't a hostage, you're my zoo-zoo, my treat after five months of servitude. Somebody pleasant and smells good for a change. I'm sorry if I smell like a sewer, it's the muck I had to crawl through, all that decayed matter."
She felt him moving, squirming around to get comfortable.
"You sure have a lot of shit in here. What's all this stuff? Handcuffs, chains...What's this can?"
"For your breath," Karen said. "You could use it. Squirt some in your mouth."
"You devil, it's Mace, huh? What've you got here, a billy? Use it on poor unfortunate offenders...Where's your gun, your pistol?"
"In my bag, in the car." She felt his hand slip from her arm to her hip and rest there and she said, "You know you don't have a chance of making it. Guards are out here already, they'll stop the car."
"They're off in the cane by now chasing Cubans."
His tone quiet, unhurried, and it surprised her.
"I timed it to slip between the cracks, you might say. I was even gonna blow the whistle myself if I had to, send out the amber alert, get them running around in confusion for when I came out of the hole. Boy, it stunk in there."
"I believe it," Karen said. "You've ruined a thirty-five-hundred-dollar suit my dad gave me."
She felt his hand move down her thigh, fingertips brushing her pantyhose, the way her skirt was pushed up.
"I bet you look great in it, too. Tell me why in the world you ever became a federal marshal, Jesus. My experience with marshals, they're all beefy guys, like your big-city dicks."
"The idea of going after guys like you," Karen said, "appealed to me."
"To prove something? What're you, one of those women's rights activists, out to bust some balls? I haven't been close to a woman like you in months, good-looking, smart...I think, man, here's my reward for doing without, leading a clean, celibate life in there, and you turn out to be a ballbuster. Tell me it ain't so."