The problem with a very straightforward, gritty thriller is that it does not leave much to discuss. Killshot is a great little book that is interesting, fun and a quick read. But it is also, by design, both realistic and straightforward. The 's Book Club discussed the book at its August meeting.
The gripping cat-and-mouse story takes place in very mundane settings in Michigan and Missouri. The characters are simple and believable so that even the exotic contract killer, Blackbird, is rendered understandable and relatable. Elmore Leonard’s famously natural dialogue is well in place, which gives a normalizing tone to each character.
None of this is a denigration of the writing. Many of Elmore Leonard’s books work precisely because of his ability to place the fantastic within the umbra of the mundane.
But the book is very much alive, even if there is little to debate. The plot is classic thriller—a married couple witness a crime and must stay alive as the criminals try to rub them out. What makes the book interesting, beyond the slow-burn thriller plot, is the relationships.
Armand “Blackbird” Degas is a methodical, cold killer who has recently lost his sense of purpose in the world. When he finds himself paired up with Richie Nix, a contemptible, chaotic, irrational killer who seems destined for a jail or grave, the two start circling each other even as they work together. This conflicted relationship is complicated by Donna, the jailhouse groupie and former prison guard who forms a dysfunctional love triangle—if love is the right word.
Meanwhile, Carmen and Wayne Colson are on the run, and the running reveals largely unexamined disconnect and dissatisfaction in their relationship. Wayne’s character is fairly straightforward, even stereotypical, but Carmen is much more complex and interesting, and she plays an unexpected role in the novel, one that says a lot about agency and expectation.
Through Carmen and Wayne, Leonard makes choices that suggest his perspective on masculinity and power. The Colsons’ relationship is complicated by the intervention of various law enforcement agents, who are alternately incompetent, suspicious, reassuring and threatening. Here Leonard also has something to say about the role of law enforcement, especially when one law enforcement agent proves as much a threat as the criminals.
We rounded out the meeting with a discussion of Elmore Leonard’s famous essay in The New York Times titled Ten Rules of Writing. This proved useful for understanding some of the choices Leonard made and how he is so successful at placing his crime novels in such realistic worlds. The essay is well worth the read and is an excellent guide to a specific style of writing, a style that seemingly attempts to remove the “artiness” or “hooptedoodle” of writing in favor of a more minimalist, script-like style.
Leonard’s own shorthand summary of his 10 rules is “if it sounds like writing, I rewrite it”. This makes for a gripping read and a great story, but one so sparse that there’s not much more to be said.
Next month we note the sesquicentennial of the start of the Civil War with the modern classic Killer Angels, by Michael Shaara. See our website, rhml.lib.mo.us, for our reading picks up through October. We also have changed the night upon which we meet. The Richmond Heights Memorial Library Book Club now meets the first Tuesday of each month, from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m., at , 8001 Dale Ave. Please join us!