CHARLIE MARTZ AND OTHER STORIES
By Elmore Leonard William Morrow & Co (US)/Paperback /237 pages/ $35.65/ Books Kinokuniya/4/5
Fans of American novelist and screenwriter Elmore Leonard, who died in 2013, will be thrilled to read this collection of 15 stories, 11 of which have never been published.
But if you, like me, are unfamiliar with this man whose novels such as Get Shorty and Raylan have been made into movies and television series, you'd be sorry you never encountered his writings earlier.
Although the short stories in this collection were written in the 1950s, there is nothing old- fashioned about his style.
The pieces are vintage gems that sparkle with Leonard's keen sense of pace, action and suspense.
Readers will be taken into seedy bars, hotel rooms, dusty cowboy towns and even the jungles of Asia. These form the various backdrops for these exciting stories of crime, mystery, romance and bizarre small-town domestic situations.
His son Peter Leonard wrote in the introduction that these early stories show how Leonard was "experimenting with style, trying to find his voice, his sound".
Although the short stories in this collection were written in the 1950s, there is nothing old fashioned about his style.The pieces are vintage gems that sparkle with Leonard’s keen sense of pace, action and suspense.
But one gets the sense that he was already fairly confident as a writer. His characters are everyday people, who are flamboyant, funny and flawed at the same time. Each personality is carefully and crisply fleshed out.
So many of them are worth highlighting, such as titular character Charlie Martz, an ageing cowboy of a lawman who still has some bullets up his sleeve.
Read about his adventures in the stories Charlie Martz and First Western Siesta In Paloverde.
There is also the no-nonsense Father Schwinn in Confession, a priestof stature who has a soft spot for cigars. There is also much more to Chinese-Malay girl Ah Min (in Time Of Terror) than meets the eye, as is the case with day clerk Paco in A Happy, Lighthearted People.
After reading one or two of these pieces, a pattern emerges. You will find yourself asking each time a new protagonist is introduced: Who is this person? What is he or she up to? What's going to happen?
Leonard never disappoints. He always has a satisfying plot twist ready and the most innocent characters always have the most surprising hidden agendas.
If you like this, read: Stranger Than Fiction by Chuck Palahniuk (Anchor Books (US), 2005, $21.88 from Books Kinokuniya). Although a non-fiction collection, Palahniuk shows himself to be the modern- day equivalent of Leonard. His pieces showcase an instinct for detail, sensitivity to human idiosyncrasies and will shock and awe as they take readers into the oddest and most compelling of situations and places.