Elmore Leonard began as a writer of westerns – pretty hard-boiled ones – and went on to become famous for his sassy crime thrillers, many of which became big budget Hollywood movies. If you’ve seen George Clooney in Out Of Sight, John Travolta in Get Shorty, or Robert De Niro in Jackie Brown, then you know Elmore Leonard. Each is based on a book of his.
I always liked Leonard for his crisp dialogue and the economical thinking and acting of his characters. It’s the very opposite of the flights of fancy in Gothic stories such as The Hunchback Of Notre Dame or Wuthering Heights. There is none of the grandiosity of cathedrals, windswept moors, or soldiers battling and besieged castles. Leonard’s adventures happen at street level with only a handful of hard-bitten characters attempting to outwit each other. Even when set during momentous events, such as hisÂ Cuba Libre in the Spanish-American war, the book concerns only a few people as they weave an individual path through the chaos.
Because at heart, Leonard’s books are still westerns.
Have you seen Sergio Leone’s The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly? If you haven’t, stop reading now and watch it. It’s possibly the greatest movie of all-time . That story is set during the American Civil War, about three bandits hunting the same treasure, each of them attempting to side-step the momentous tides of history eddying around them in order to thread a narrow path to the loot. That’s how Cuba Libre is. In Leone’s movie there’s a scene where the three bandits must each cross a heavily contested bridge, the Blues and Greys on opposite banks. It’s a good scene in how three individualists both leverage and avoid the pitched battle going on around them in order to cross the river and make haste towards a cemetery over the hill.
Mr Majestyk is a western dressed up as a modern crime thriller. It begins with Mr Vincent Majestyk, a demobbed veteran of the recent Indochina war, who is in his second year as a melon grower by the Mexican border of the USA. As he’s attempting to pick his crop a local hustler tries to shake him down. One thing leads to another and suddenly he’s on the wrong end of a high-priced hit man’s, Frank Renka, vendetta. Majestyk attempts to hold the line, harvest the melons, while avoiding a showdown with Renka.
It’s a classic western plot: a reformed but deadly man seeking the quiet life (replace rancher for melon farmer to make it western), an ineffective sheriff and the protagonist’s grim reliance on doing it all himself. There’s the corrupt local bandit, the ruthless hired gun, and the inevitable showdown. This book is a Clint Eastwood western transplanted into 1974. All the themes and the tone ring clearly as western.
Mr Majestyk is a short book with a tightly focused plot. There’s nothing extraneous. No sub-plots, no social commentary, no attempt to contextualise within the grand sweep of history. There’s just a rugged individualist trying to live his life and then a few bad apples who try to ruin him. He must turn the tables and seek revenge. The real standout of the book is the crispness with which Leonard handles the prose and dialogue. These are people of few words and few actions, but every single movement has significance. His later crime books tended to take on the ‘caper’ style, of a rag-tag bunch of chancers each double-crossing the others to get his mitts on the treasure for himself. Get Shorty and its sequel Get Cool are exactly that. Mr Majestyk is more of a sigma book. One man, independent, who had better not be fucked with.
If you’d like to read more from a deadly, ruthless sigma male who plots a path of violent revenge against fearsome adversaries then you’ll like be disappointed by my memoir series. However, if drinking whiskey and shagging loads of birds would satisfy you, then go check them out on my product page here.
 Not including Private’s Triple X Video Magazine 7.