Charlie Martz and Other Stories by Elmore Leonard is a collection of short, previously unpublished stories of both the Western and crime varieties (available June 16, 2015).
Charlie Martz and Other Stories could be slightly jarring for unsuspecting Elmore Leonard devotees. The fifteen short stories—eleven never before published—were written early in The Dickens of Detroit's celebrated career when he was still cultivating his craft. His son, Peter Leonard, in the introduction acknowledges these early tales break several of the celebrated senior Leonard's 10 Rules of Writing—I began counting how many exclamation points appear in one story. Still, there’s much to welcome in this posthumous assortment by an author Stephen King hailed as, “the great American writer.”
“Charlie Martz” is a terrific Western number that finds a man named Bushway in the sleepy town of Mesilla, befriended by a saloon’s lone customer, Schmidt. Bushway appears startled to learn a mutual acquaintance, Martz, is a local sheriff, and Schmidt offers to escort the two-gun toting stranger to meet Martz unaware that Bushway is an assassin out to kill the lawman. Later, Bushway holds Schmidt and his wife hostage in their home until Martz shows up, after which Bushway forces the wife to spark their close-quarters duel:
Mrs. Schmidt held the long-handled spoon as if it were an object of evil. She bit her lower lip, not making a sound, but her eyes pleaded in the direction of the gunman. Bushway was about to yell at her again when she closed her eyes and with a shudder, swung the spoon behind her with all her might.
The sharp CLANG of the dishpan vibrated no more than a second before the room was filled with the explosive bark of a Colt … a split second … then the same crashing short bark as a Colt jerked fire from its barrel.
Some boisterous cowhands in “First Western Siesta in Paloverde” are lounging about the town’s watering hole, humiliating Martz by swiping his gun and playing keep away until a notorious gunslinger, Reb Spadea, arrives forcing Martz to demonstrate exactly why he has four notches on his Colt. “Paloverde” is almost a rewrite of “Charlie Martz” and contradicts the earlier tale when Martz expounds on where he killed Bushway. Perhaps, old Martz simply forgot or was exaggerating. One thing’s for certain, Leonard at this period in his evolution, had a knack for spinning the Western yarn with effortless charm.
But for those who prefer Leonard’s crime fiction output, “One, Horizontal” features an older brother looking for revenge for his younger sibling who had been maimed by a mobster and wisely isn't looking for retribution himself. A real vibe for old Detroit permeates and delivers the kind of blunt action a Leonard reader craves:
His gun hung at his side. He glanced around and then took the decoration handkerchief from his breast pocket and began wiping his forehead and eyes.
He was looking into plain white when the rock smashed into his face … with my hand around it. Before he went down I let go with three more.
A larger than expected Ernest Hemingway influence is prevalent, and a true gem is “A Happy Light-Hearted People” which is as sincere a homage to Hemingway as has ever been written—Papa himself could have been confused, after a Scotch or two, whether he wrote it (we discover in the introduction that Leonard learned to write by placing a blank piece of paper over the text of a Hemingway tale and rewriting the passage in his own manner). The dialogue in “A Happy Light-Hearted People” forms a bridge, of sorts, from Hemingway's impact to the gritty, wry, language that Leonard became known for a couple of decades later. Bonus: “Arma Virumque Cano,” another Hemingway infused piece, finds a salesman picking up a young female hitchhiker with unexpected results, and is the perfect blending of these two twentieth-century titans’ distinct styles.
Film critic Roger Ebert nailed it when reviewing the Stephen Soderbergh 1998 adaptation of Leonard’s Out of Sight, by saying, “Elmore Leonard is above all the creator of colorful characters.” And this collection certainly serves up another batch of those gravelly, authentic, fringe-dwelling lives. First time readers to Leonard should probably start with one of his later novels like 52 Pick-Up, Stick, or Glitz. Leonard aficionados by all means should dig straightaway into Charlie Martz and Other Stories and savor what little we have left from this undisputed master.
To learn more or order a copy, visit:
This sweepstakes has ended.
Comment below for a chance to win a copy of Elmore Leonard's Charlie Martz and Other Stories!. To enter, make sure you're a registered member of the site and simply leave a comment below. TIP: Since only comments from registered users will be tabulated, if your user name appears in red above your comment—STOP—go log in, then try commenting again. If your user name appears in black above your comment, You’re In! Charlie Martz and Other Stories Comment Sweepstakes: NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN. A purchase does not improve your chances of winning. Sweepstakes open to legal residents of 50 United States, D.C., and Canada (excluding Quebec), who are 18 years or older as of the date of entry. To enter, complete the “Post a Comment” entry at https://www.criminalelement.com/blogs/2015/06/fresh-meat-charlie-martz-and-other-stories-by-elmore-leonard-short-stories-edward-a-grainger beginning at 12:00 p.m. Eastern Time (ET) June 11, 2015. Sweepstakes ends 11:59 a.m. ET June 18, 2015. Void outside the United States and Canada and where prohibited by law. Please see full details and official rules here. Sponsor: Macmillan, 175 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10010.
Read all of Edward A. Grainger's posts for Criminal Element.