Elmore Leonard passed away today, leaving the title of America's greatest living crime fiction writer up dispute. He was 87 years old, with other 40 novels to his name. About half have been turned into films or TV shows. Read just a page of Leonard and it's clear why: He writes scenes like screen treatments. They unfold economically, with a strong sense of physical space. The visual details pop and, most importantly, the dialogue sings. Leonard's known as a king because of his dialogue. It was clean and terse, like speech but cooler.
Here's a moment from Freaky Deaky (which, unfortunately, did not receive a strong movie adaptation):
"She didn't throw me out, I left. I phoned, you weren't home, so I stayed at Jerry's."
"When you needed me most," his dad said. "I'm sorry I wasn't here."
"Actually," Chris said, "you get right down to it, Phyllis's the one does all the talking. She gives me banking facts about different kinds of annuities, fiduciary trusts, institutional liquid asset funds...I'm sitting here trying to stay awake, she's telling me about the exciting world of trust funds."
"I had a feeling," his dad said, "you've given it some thought. You realize life goes on."
"I'm not even sure what attracted me to her in the first place."
His dad said, "You want me to tell you?"
With the right director and screenwriter, Leonard's work made for some of the best crime movies and TV in recent memory. These are the five essentials.