Rule 10: Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.
That rule is from Elmore Leonard’s New York Times article, “Easy on the Adverbs, Exclamation Points and Especially Hooptedoodle”. His son, Peter certainly had memorized that rule, along with the rest, in writing the marvelous novel All He Saw Was The Girl.
The prose is terse, hard-bitten and to the point. When a story opens with the protagonist in jail, well, it’s got to be dark and hardboiled. And true to the Leonard name, it’s slapstick-caper-with-great-dialogue in vintage.
When two American college buddies, the rich and arrogant Chip Tallenger and William McCabe, the son of a working class Detroit family, end up in an Italian jail after a night of drunken revelry that concludes with Chip stealing a taxi, they are on a collision course with disaster.
In jail, the pair meet an Italian street thug with delusions of grandeur. Roberto Mazara tries to strong-arm Chip, who looks like an easy mark in his $400 Cole Haan boots, but McCabe steps up and puts Mazara in his place and on his butt.
When Chip and McCabe are “bought” out of jail by Chip’s wealthy U.S. Senator father, Chip puts the blame for the taxi fiasco on McCabe, even though he was responsible for the shenanigans. McCabe doesn’t correct him and takes the heat from Charles Tallenger II.
The story makes the local papers – U.S. Senators Son is Acquitted of Stealing Taxi – but the names were switched under the photos. When Mazara breaks out he hatches a plot for revenge for the loss of face. Italians are nothing if not bubbling over with machismo.
He is going to kidnap McCabe, mistaking him for the son of the senator and he uses his beautiful girlfriend to ensure that All He Saw Was The Girl . The senator ransoms McCabe, thinking it’s Chip the gangsters have and because Chip is off to the beach no one is the wiser.
But McCabe decides to turn the tables on Mazara and get back the ransom money. He kidnaps Mazara’s girlfriend, Angela, who just happens to be only child of the godfather of all mafia godfathers, Don Gennaro.
Switching scenes to Detroit, Joey Palermo, another spoiled rich kid, the son of a local mafia lieutenant meets Sharon, an older bored wife of a too often out of town U.S. Secret Service agent. A one night stand is one thing, but when Joey falls for her and wants to marry her, it’s crossing the line as the mafia doesn’t need this kind of heat. When Sharon’s husband, Ray, melts down on the job and walks away from his career, he returns to Detroit in the hopes of patching up his marriage. But, when he finds Sharon is gone he sets out to find her, which of course leads him to Joey.
But Joey has been spirited out of the country until things cool down and is now in Italy with his uncle Don Gennaro.
It’s not hard to shine in a field where your father is the master. None of the Hemingway’s children, though they could write competently, could live up to the standards of Papa. Bob Dylan’s son is a fine musician, but not on a level with Bob, same with John Lennon’s offspring. But Peter Leonard is proving the exception in his books. In All He Saw Was The Girl – his third-he tells a darkly humorous tale with great dialog and narrative. Lean, mean and as tightly wrapped as the characters that inhabit it.
He resists the urge to wax poetic in his descriptions of Rome and the Italian countryside, perhaps remembering Rule 9 in his father’s essay : “Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.” Nevertheless, letting those details come forth in dialog and thoughts of the characters and the natural flow of the story. He conveys a sense of place while avoiding a travelogue style, which works wonderfully. The characters, too, jump memorably from the page full of life and foibles.
The story is based on an incident from the author’s life while he was a student in Italy in the ‘70s and that experience allows him to paint a masterpiece of fiction that can only be called Leonard-esque now that it is in its second generation of bearing fruit. The plot motors along like a sports car cruising down the Italian coast and never misses a twist or a turn. But there’s bound to be a collision when this many egos get involved and the reader will enjoy the ride and the crash. Peter Leonard is in full stride with this, his third book and the future shines with a noirish light. This is “don’t miss” crime fiction at its very best.