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Road Dogs

Road Dogs

3.9 40
by Elmore Leonard

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Road Dogs is terrific, and Elmore Leonard is in a class of one.”
—Dennis Lehane, author of Shutter Island and Mystic River


“You know from the first sentence that you’re in the hands of the original Daddy Cool....This one’ll kill you.”
—Stephen King


Elmore Leonard is eternal.


Road Dogs is terrific, and Elmore Leonard is in a class of one.”
—Dennis Lehane, author of Shutter Island and Mystic River


“You know from the first sentence that you’re in the hands of the original Daddy Cool....This one’ll kill you.”
—Stephen King


Elmore Leonard is eternal. In Road Dogs, the PEN USA Lifetime Achievement Award winner and “America’s greatest crime master” (Newsweek) brings back three of his favorite characters—Jack Foley from Out of Sight, Cundo Rey from La Brava, and Dawn Navarro from Riding the Rap—for a twisting, explosive, always surprising masterwork of crime fiction theSan Francisco Chronicle calls, “a sly, violent, funny and superbly written story of friendship, greed, and betrayal.”

Editorial Reviews

Robert Pinsky
Although it isn't always mentioned, Leonard's books have subjects. Road Dogs is about the varying degrees of truth and baloney in human relationships. Sometimes the truth or the baloney is lethal. Droll and exciting, enriched by the self-aware, what-the-hell-why-not insouciance of a master now in his mid-80s, Road Dogs—underlying its material of sex, violence and money, and beyond its cast of cons and thugs and movie stars—presents interesting questions.
—The New York Times Book Review
Patrick Anderson
At any given moment there are hundreds of men and women who, in the twilight of their careers, should be regarded as American national treasures. For example, the politician John Lewis, the musicians Willie Nelson and Ellis Marsalis and the novelist Larry McMurtry, to mention a few. To that list let us add 83-year-old Elmore Leonard, whose new book, Road Dogs, is yet another gem in a career that has endured for more than half a century and given us 42 novels.
—The Washington Post
Janet Maslin
Ordinarily the writer who turns to his own pages for inspiration risks looking lazy. But Mr. Leonard's crime stories are packed with players who deserve curtain calls. And there's nothing remotely wheezy about his way of throwing together Foley, Cundo and Dawn…Foley has the brains, Cundo the machismo and Dawn the shamelessness to make this one of Mr. Leonard's most enjoyably sneaky stories…[Leonard] still writes with high style, great energy, unflappable cool and a jubilant love of the game. As ever, his scorn for fussy prose is best expressed through his own superbly lean locutions.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
A smooth and stylish performance by Peter James goes a long way in resurrecting three of Leonard's most famous characters for this latest novel. Jack Foley, bank robber extraordinaire partners up with Cundo Rey while serving time in a Miami prison. With some help from Cundo's lawyer, Foley is soon out of his cell and hanging out at Venice Beach with Cundo's girlfriend, Dawn Navarro. As with all of Leonard's books, each of these characters will do whatever to whomever to get whatever they're after. James slides easily between the book's eclectic roster of characters, giving each of them clear and distinctive voices. Whether it's Cundo's Cuban-accented gangsta riff, Dawn's cold sensuality or Jack's unflappable cool, he handles it with aplomb. Leonard continues to write the hippest crime fiction in town, and James's reading fits well with the author's cooler than cool prose. A Morrow hardcover (Reviews, Feb. 2). (May)
Library Journal

Road dogs are prison buddies who watch each other's backs. Jack Foley and Cundo Rey are trying to maintain that loyalty after they get out and start anew in Venice, CA, where Rey's girl Dawn Navarro awaits. Leonard (Up in Honey's Room) brings back old favorites Foley and Rey, Dawn, and Karen Sisco-smart, sexy women and clever con artists, a mix the author knows well. Foley is being dogged by a rogue FBI agent who's convinced the infamous gentleman bank robber will strike again, and Rey's financial partner, Little Jimmy, is secretly in love with Dawn. The grifters' game of moving parts is quietly intriguing, but it never generates enough steam. This is Foley's story, and one can envision the movie already-his character was irresistible in Out of Sight. But there aren't enough capers or plot twists to make this one of the author's best. Leonard fans will be content, but steer newbies to Out of Sight or Tishomingo Blues. Expect high demand and buy accordingly, but be moderate in your enthusiasm. [See Prepub Alert, LJ1/09.]
—Teresa L. Jacobsen

Kirkus Reviews
Leonard throws together three battle-hardened survivors from his earlier capers, with predictably unpredictable results. Jack Foley (Out of Sight, 1996) robbed numerous banks before an amateurish mistake and a run-in with Bob Isom Gibbs, aka Maximum Bob, got him sent to prison for a 30-year stretch. There he meets Cundo Rey (LaBrava, 1983), the four-time killer from Cuba whose debt to society is much shorter. The two felons bond over the manifest injustice of Jack's disproportionate sentence, and soon Cundo's hooked Jack up with his smart-chick lawyer Megan Norris, who gets Jack's sentence knocked down to 30 months less time served. As a result, he gets to go home before Cundo, and the home he goes to is one of the two houses psychic Dawn Navarro (Riding the Rap, 1995) keeps for Cundo. Despite his FBI nemesis Lou Adams's certainty that Jack will rob another bank within a month, Jack and Cundo have their sights set higher than one more $5,000 score. They plan to insinuate Jack into Dawn's business, beginning with her high-value deal to free movie star Danialle Karmanos from the oppressive ghost of her late movie-producer husband. Even before Jack's met and charmed the susceptible Danny, he's already insinuated himself between Dawn's sheets, establishing himself as more than her business partner just in time to welcome Cundo back home. It's clear from the get-go that the real action here won't be the scam of Danny Karmanos but the drolly straight-faced efforts of the three co-conspirators to increase their share of the pot by reducing their numbers. Yet although the double-crosses are the stuff of the master's best work, they come across as telegraphic and obligatory, as if the tale were asketch for a more full-blooded novel. What works best are the matchless incidental pleasures Leonard's world always provides, from lightning-fast descriptions to bull's-eye dialogue, as when Cundo complains about Dawn's nagging: "Eight years inside I dream about her. I come out, she acts like she's my wife."Author tour to Chicago, Detroit, Miami, New Orleans, New York
Charles Taylor
If he weren't known as a master of crime fiction, Elmore Leonard would be recognized as one of our best writers of romantic comedy.

In the movies now, romantic comedies are little more than Oprah-ized discussions on the state of our relationships, therapy sessions with an implied laugh track. At heart, though, romantic comedy has always been a tough-minded genre. Even when the couple had passed the tests before them, the fade-outs usually offered only the certainty that what lay in front of these new lovers was the hard work of living. At its best -- The Lady Eve, Holiday, or even the recent Ghost Town -- romantic comedy is not for wimps.

Elmore Leonard is not a wimp. The male-female relationships in his novels are so believable because even the younger characters come with some wear on them. Think of his pairings: the airline stewardess and the bail bondsman in Rum Punch (the basis for Quentin Tarantino's great Jackie Brown); the Detroit cop and the lingerie model in Mr. Paradise; another Detroit cop and the reporter who stumbles onto a great story in Split Images; the two recovering alcoholics in Unknown Man #89; and of course the veteran bank robber Jack Foley and the federal marshal Karen Sisco in Out of Sight (forever in our minds, George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez in Steven Soderbergh's film).

Leonard has a feel for the anti-romantic wisecracking that functions as verbal foreplay between his lovers, and a knowledge of the contingencies that keeps the stars out of their eyes. He's also scarily adept at the love affairs that don't work out. His 1989 Killshot (the basis for a terrific but maltreated movie shortly to appear on DVD) is one of the best portraits of a loving, crumbling marriage that I know, and I'd take it any day over the revered miserabalism of Richard Yates's Revolutionary Road.

Road Dogs isn't exactly a romantic comedy. But the dirty crackle of sex races through it. His pair might be more in lust than in love, but again Leonard offers the wry spectacle of two headstrong people bumping up against each other, not always pleasurably. One half of the equation is Jack Foley, returning from Out of Sight. He's not the only Leonard character to make a bow. Figures from Riding the Rap, La Brava, and Maximum Bob make an appearance.

In Road Dogs, Foley, returned to the joint after the brief taste of freedom he enjoyed in Out of Sight, makes the acquaintance of Cundo Rey -- rich and crooked in equal measure --and becomes his buddy. Cundo shows his appreciation by fixing Jack up with a hotshot lawyer who gets Jack's 30-year sentence reduced to time served.

Unexpectedly free, Jack becomes Cundo's L.A. house guest, where he's supposed to await his benefactor's imminent release while hatching a plan to work with Cundo's lady, Dawn. Dawn is -- you should pardon the expression -- a spiritualist. Her scam is to convince rich women that a meddlesome spirit (usually a spouse who's shuffled off this mortal coil) has returned to cause trouble. Jack will play the part of the specialist who can rid the abode of the unwelcome ectoplasmic visitor.

You'd have to be awfully slow to hear that setup and not figure out that Jack and Dawn wind up in the sack -- and that Dawn has plans for Cundo's money that don't include Cundo.

Maybe Elmore Leonard's knack for writing sex scenes has to do with the fact that he never loses sight of the laughs that lovemaking can entail. Instead of the mush of afterglow, Leonard gives us this exchange after Dawn and Jack's first dalliance:

"Did you have a good time?"
"My heart," Foley said, "soared like a hawk."

And because the sex here is inextricable from the scheming, there's a dirty kick to it, an extra seasoning of the forbidden.

The offhand expertise of an old pro is most visible in Road Dogs in the way Leonard treats a Postman Always Rings Twice scenario with casual humor. Dawn -- a sexpot who makes sure her bed partners keep their eye on her bottom while she keeps hers on the bottom line -- is as untrustworthy as any femme fatale. But Leonard is having too much fun delineating her guile to get distracted by her smolder.

Where Road Dogs goes wrong is in what distracts the reader. Leonard sets up too many complications surrounding Jack and Dawn -- a rogue FBI agent convinced Jack is about to return to his larcenous ways; the former gang member the agent hires to keep an eye on Jack; Cundo's trusted business partner, charged with ensuring Dawn's chastity and keeping Cundo's coffers stocked. It's not just that these plotlines obscure the main story -- at times they make it hard to say what the main story is. Part of that problem is that Leonard has relied here almost entirely on dialogue. You can hardly blame him. Martin Amis famously said that both he and Saul Bellow felt that "for an absolutely reliable and unstinting infusion of narrative pleasure in a prose miraculously purged of all false qualities, there [is] no one quite like Elmore Leonard." Road Dogs, though, offers a bit too much of a good thing. Leonard's touch is as sure as ever. He is one of the masters of voice in contemporary fiction. But at times this story can make you feel as if you are making your way through a thicket of voices, trying to keep the motive of each separate one clear.

And it has to be said, the two women that the book pays attention to -- Dawn and the widowed Hollywood actress Jack ends up keeping company with -- aren't as interesting as the women who make brief appearances: Karen Sisco, testifying on Jack's behalf at an early trial scene, or Megan Norris, the lawyer who gets Jack his freedom, seemingly without effort.

The disappointment that Karen Sisco appears in only one scene is easy to understand: She and Foley were such a memorable combination in Out of Sight that you can't blame the reader for wanting more. The disappointment that Megan Norris is such a brief presence requires a little more explanation. Like Howard Hawks, Elmore Leonard adores strong, competent women, and Megan's few scenes set you up to believe she's going to be a major character.

Given the fact, though, that Road Dogs is an extended bow by what might be called the Elmore Leonard Players, it wouldn't be a surprise to see her return in the future. If Road Dogs is a flawed entertainment, it's still a new Elmore Leonard novel. And like the stash that Cundo has hidden away, that ain't hay. --Charles Taylor

Charles Taylor has written for numerous publications including Salon, the Boston Phoenix, and the New York Times Book Review.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.20(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.00(d)

Meet the Author

Elmore Leonard wrote more than forty books during his long career, including the bestsellers Raylan, Tishomingo Blues, Be Cool, Get Shorty, and Rum Punch, as well as the acclaimed collection When the Women Come Out to Dance, which was a New York Times Notable Book. Many of his books have been made into movies, including Get Shorty and Out of Sight. The short story "Fire in the Hole," and three books, including Raylan, were the basis for the FX hit show Justified. Leonard received the Lifetime Achievement Award from PEN USA and the Grand Master Award from the Mystery Writers of America. He died in 2013.

Brief Biography

Bloomfield Village, Michigan
Date of Birth:
October 11, 1925
Place of Birth:
New Orleans, Louisiana
B.Ph., University of Detroit, 1950

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Road Dogs 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 39 reviews.
slatsdawson More than 1 year ago
The book was better than great which one would expect from E.L. The good guys aren't really good, the bad guys are so bad, the girls are so sexy and treacherous. You are in it, the reality of the convict world grabs you by the throat.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
bravewarrior More than 1 year ago
CD/unabridged: This novel is a sequel of three other characters in two other Leonard books. This is my first Elmore Leonard book and I found it very entertaining. However, there wasn't really a plot. Jack Foley, the charming bank robber, meets Cundo Rey in prison. During the course of the story, they are both released and into the clutches of Dawn. I was always waiting for something to happen. Frances James does a narrative of the story. Jack Foley is smooth and reminds me of Micheal on Burn Notice. Cundo is on the lower ranks of humanity and Dawn is out for herself. I don't know if I would have been happy reading this, but it was a entertaining audio.
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I am am Elmore Leonard fan; so, when I see one of his books, I will get one. I especially like When the Women Come Out To Dance, Get Shorty and Be Cool (to name only a few). What I love is his use of language. He is a master at capturing the spirit of a culture and, his characters pop off the page. On top of that, many of plots are clever and have so many twists and turns that Lombard Street (in San Francisco) would be impressed. However, one cannot always be on (Terry Pratchett an exception). Road Dogs is entertaining, but not deep. It won't rate with Hammett, but is in line with another fave of mine, Robert B Parker. The writing is always top-notch, the characters are interesting, and the story moves along nicely. It just won't blow your socks off. I was not compelled to read it in the way I was with other works where I couldn't put it down. Regardless, I couldn't help but pick it up and smile. So, I did enjoy myself, and any fan of Leonard's will. If this is your first time reading his stuff, though, try Maximum Bob, Get Shorty or one of his westerns.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
grumpydan More than 1 year ago
Two guys meet in prison, form a friendship and one (Cundo) helps the other (Jack) get his sentence reduced. Now Jack owes Cundo, or does he? Outside, Jack stays at Cundo's house, meets Cundo's woman and waits for Cundo to get released. Oh, did I mention that Jack has an FBI agent hounding him, waiting for him to rob another bank? What we have here is a peculiar group of characters who definitely are not being honest with each other. "Road Dogs" is filled with witty dialogue, but with a plot that doesn't hold for the full length of the novel. It was enjoyable but there has been better from Elmore Leonard.
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eric11 More than 1 year ago
i found this book enjoyable. it has the same "old guy just telling you a story" feel to it. it's got that element of ridiculous that makes things so real because they sound like such bull at times. there is some repetition here - and i suppose this could rub you wrong or right, depending on your taste. i found the surfacing of some familiar names and faces, and they were surfacing in new times and set ups. it took me forward and brought me back. the book reads fast. if you don't end up loving it, you're only out a couple of sittings.
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