William Morrow, $26.00, 262 pages, ISBN 978-0-06-173314-7
I wasn’t able to find a novel about criminality that represented the spirit and values of Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanza or the holiday season in general, so I went for an old favorite of mine, a man whom many consider to be one of the best crime writers who ever lived. His name is Elmore Leonard, and he is indisputably a giant among genre writers. He’s a writer I hold in highest esteem; the author of somewhere around fifty books; a man with an absolute command of language, and a pitch-perfect ear for dialog. I chose one of his novels at random because, yes Virginia, there are great writers still, whose books are all equally good. Elmore Leonard is one of them.
Road Dogs is prison slang. It describes a pair of prisoners using the buddy system to protect themselves from gangs, assassins and crazies while incarcerated. The road dogs in this case are cell mates Jack Foley, “the most notorious bank robber since John Dillinger,” and Cundo Rey, a wealthy Cuban ex-patriot criminal sent here on the Mariel boat lift when Castro emptied out his jails and sent all the convicts in them to America. In appreciation for his friendship and protection, Cundo arranges for Jack’s thirty year sentence to be reduced to three months, and Jack is released two weeks before Cundo. They agree to meet up in California at one of two houses Cundo owns in Venice Beach, where his common-law wife Dawn Navarro is living and waiting. It all sounds good on paper, but, problem is, not one of them trusts any of the others; they’re all criminals after all. The plotting is tight, and the dialogue has the master’s touch. You’ll love it. Better still, it may make you, like me, an Elmore Leonard enthusiast.