Sunday, November 21, 2010

Leonard - The Big Bounce

The Big Bounce, Elmore Leonard, Fawcett, 1969.

Jack Ryan is a minor criminal arrested for a fight at a pick-up baseball game. Local Justice of the Peace Mr Majestic is a baseball fan, and on the possibility hes opponent carried a knife, Jack is released with no charges laid. Ryan is a former baseball prospect who never quite made it to the pros. His bosses, now his ex bosses, at the melon plantation where he worked order Ryan to leave town. Mr. Majestic offers Ryan a job as handyman at his beach front cabanas. Ryan decides to stay. He takes the lead in a break in to steal wallets from a party with two accomplices, then takes the job with Mr. Majestic.

He meets Nancy, a young mistress of a local millionaire. She is a master manipulator, perhaps even better than Jack. She tempts Jack into a robbery of her lover's payroll. But Jack is also tempted to live on the right side of the law. Then his partners in his last job return, and his former employer finds out he has not left town. The complications build in an easy-going fashion which matches Jack's personality and approach. The plot moves swiftly, while the emphasis is on character.

This is an early Leonard crime story and one of his best. His writing shows the style he is known for, practiced in his westerns, but we also see the signs of a younger Leonard still developing his technique. The dialogue style is there, the basic yet swift plot, the scenarios and complications which build one on the other. There is also a reliance on long flashbacks as a method to develop character. It is not something I have noticed in other Leonard novels. It works fine here as we get long looks into both Jack's and Nancy's past. But it is something the later Leonard would not do. The only sub-plot that does not work is that of the young woman in the cabin who takes an apparent interest in Ryan and who he thinks wants to seduce him. That entire scenario falls flat.

The various threads and characters come together very cleverly for the finale, which ends in a perhaps mildly ambiguous conclusion, like this sentence, but remains true to the characters and is in that very satisfying.

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