Elmore Leonard Listened Closely

Or at least his heroes did. This is from City Primeval, one of two novels Elmore Leonard published in 1980. I’ve never read an Elmore Leonard novel before. Well, I started this one years ago, but didn’t finished it. I started all over recently and am close to done. A remarkable book. To say the author knows exactly what he’s doing is an understatement. The world of the book is a bit too intense for me, so I’m not sure I’ll be reading another one any time soon, but it’s an incredibly well-constructed novel.

In one earlier scene, the antagonist, who has a fierce dislike for disco, damages a Donna Summer album, having “swept the arm” of the record player across it in a fit. “That disco shit just ricochets off my mind!” he complains. Later, someone who was present the first time takes pains to save a Bee Gees record from being “scratched to death” by the same person. She succeeds. And later still, close to the end of the book, the disco hater, in a state of extended isolation, gets so lonely that he puts the Donna Summer record back “on the record player to hear the sound of a human voice.” It says something about Leonard’s conscientiousness regarding narrative coherence and authorial logic that the colorful early moment is echoed not once but twice.

Tellingly in the scene excerpted here, this Raymond is the story’s protagonist: a detective tasked with bringing down a killer (of people as well as, secondarily, records). I love how Raymond becomes aware of how sound works in the bar, and his observation of people “working at having fun.” As I mentioned recently, one of the things about thrillers is there’s usually a character who is primed to listen closely. In order for the characters to listen closely, the author must, as well.

Note: I updated this post after finishing reading the novel.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *