JUST ANOTHER DAY IN LEONARD LAND: Curvaceous corpses, heroic cops, pure evil, dry wit

in Fiction by

Beautiful women are turning up dead on the beach, artfully arranged on lounge chairs in front of the Florida motel recently purchased by a former Detroit homicide detective. O’Clair had been hoping for a quiet retirement with a lower body count, but the clues are pointing to case files he thought were long closed.

Eyes Closed Tight is Peter Leonard’s sixth crime novel, but it’s the first one published since the 2013 death of his famous crime-writer father, Elmore Leonard. British writer Martin Amis, also a son of a famous author (Kingsley Amis, author of Lucky Jim), calls the elder Leonard “a literary genius” and “the nearest America has to a national writer.”

HiResCoverImage_EyesClosedTightAsk the younger Leonard how he feels about the comparisons to his father, and he acknowledges its inevitability. He did, after all, follow his father’s footsteps, and can’t escape his long shadow.

Then he skips the book biz banter and says, “I miss him. He was my best friend and he’d come over for dinner three nights a week. We’d talk about what we’d written that day, our scenes and characters. My dad was particularly interested in the bad guys, as I am too, because they were more fun.”

Elmore Leonard more than understood his son’s decision to leave a 30-year career in advertising. One day, says Peter, he looked at his father, hard at work in sandals and Nine Inch Nails T-shirt, and decided it was time he did something he loved, too.

The joy Leonard finds in writing is evident in his realistic dialog, his appealing (or revolting yet riveting) characters, and twisty plots that keep the pages turning. What, asks the reader from page one, is going on here? Must keep reading! And who doesn’t enjoy a good beach read with windswept beaches, sun, sand and sunburned tourists in oblivious co-existence with murderous maniacs?

Eyes Closed Tight has true love, too. O’Clair’s young girlfriend (he’s 46, she’s 26) is the beautiful and talented Virginia. When they met in Leonard’s previous book, Trust Me, she was an emo-punk rocker with tongue studs, purple hair and spiky dog collar. Somehow since then she’s lost the crusty attitude and cleaned up into a true babe. More than a beauty, she’s also handy with a wrench and when not in O’Clair’s bed is happiest fixing the motel’s garbage disposals and pool filters.

Into paradise rain must fall and in Eyes Closed Tight, a serial killer with a grudge makes it rain. To get to the bottom of who is killing women and delivering them to his beach, like a cat bringing mice to his feet, O’Clair heads back north to Detroit.

Leonard has lived in greater Detroit all his life and considers it the perfect city for a crime novel; he’s set scenes there for all of his books. “If you are writing crime fiction, you couldn’t live in a better city,” he says. “It’s a cool town, a weird town, and it has everything you want.”

To gear up for his latest noir thriller, Leonard went the extra mile and spent most of a month shadowing Detroit detectives at crime scenes, and looking at morgue photos, lab analyses and police reports. “If you’re going to write about homicide, you’ve got to see it, you can’t make it up,” he says.

PeterLeonard_AuthorPhotoBack in Florida, Virginia gets police protection at the motel at night, but she’s in more danger than anyone suspects. During the day, the killer’s eyes follow her while she grocery shops, visits hardware stores, and maintains the motel’s pool. Will she survive his plans to add her body to his tally in his exceptionally gruesome way? (It involves X-Acto knives and rebar.) Will O’Clair get home in time?

Leonard’s stories move along at a fast clip with a satisfying amount of police procedure and investigative shoe leather. His prose is short on narrative, long on character. It’s been said he writes slapstick with great dialog.

Appearances are part of Leonard’s humor. When Virginia buys O’Clair Tommy Bahama Hawaiian shirts, FUBU shorts, and Ray-Ban sunglasses, he wears them but wonders, why is this good-looking girl living with me? When O’Clair interrogates an ex-accountant-turned streetwalker who has traded balance sheets for a crack addiction, she’s still wearing Ann Taylor clothes.

Leonard’s next book, Unknown Remains, begins on 9/11 in the shadow of the Twin Towers with the premise: What would happen if circumstances outside your control gave you a second chance?

We can’t wait.

Watch Peter Leonard’s BookTrib Live Chat here.

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Joanna Poncavage loves New York and native plants and lives on a horse ranch/organic farm in the Poconos. Joanna’s career includes reporting on food, health, the arts, crime and general quirkiness for The Morning Call newspaper in Allentown, Pa., and writing and editing for Rodale’s Organic Gardening magazine. She is currently a contributor to Mother Earth News and is at work on a collection of short stories.

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