Going to the dogs

CRIME: Road Dogs, By Elmore Leonard, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £18.99

CRIME: Road Dogs, By Elmore Leonard, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £18.99

DEDICATED Elmore Leonard readers will already have come across the three main characters in Road Dogs, the celebrated American crime writer's latest novel. They are Cundo Rey, the brutal cocaine criminal from LaBrava, his wife, the glamorous psychic and ruthless con artist Dawn Navarro, from Riding the Rap, and Jack Foley, the handsome and legendary bank robber played by George Clooney in the movie version of Leonard's Out of Sight.

The book begins in a tough Florida prison where the two men have become firm friends who watch each others’ backs. “We road dogs man, we do for each other no matter what,” says Cundo to Foley, and the plot as it’s played out explores what “do for each other” might mean.

“Let me tell you how a smart chick lawyer can change your life for you,” says Cundo one day, and Foley, who is facing a 30-year stretch, takes up his wealthy and well-connected road dog’s offer of help. The two are eventually released at roughly the same time.


From there we’re back to Leonard’s favourite stomping ground, Los Angeles, and the glamorous suburb of Venice, where Foley is holed up alone in one of Cundo’s multimillion-dollar houses.

Across the canal the Cuban gangster is reunited with his wife in his other mansion, where he quickly discovers that Dawn’s promises of fidelity during his eight-year prison stint weren’t entirely true. The lawyer who managed to spring Foley had a price – $30,000 – and Cundo paid it, apparently with no strings attached, but what will that mean for the retired bank robber down the line? With gangsters there’s always a payback time.

The three-way dance of suspicion, betrayal and violence begins, and it's clear that in the highstakes game, despite all the talk about friendship and loyalty, only one person will win. And one of the unsatisfactory aspects of Road Dogsis that any reader will know from the get-go who that winner will be.

The diversions are pure Hollywood: a one-time movie star becomes infatuated with the ever-charismatic Foley; Lou Adams, an FBI operative, is so obsessed with catching Foley in his next bank robbery that he employs local hoodlums to stake him out; and Little Jimmy, Cundo’s bagman, is driven around in a Bentley by his faithful minder, Zorro. It’s as if they’re all in a B-movie, complete with sassy dialogue and played out under the bright Californian sun in a part of the city that resembles a studio set.

Dawn, in particular, with her changes of clothes, dramatic make-up and endless posing, comes across as an actor playing the part rather than a genuine character in the centre of a credible plot. She practises her “lines” in the mirror, which could be Leonard’s way of piling on the knowing movie references or simply a well-worn mannered style, depending on how much of a diehard fan you are.

The whole book is dialogue-heavy, which means it runs the risk of being too cinematic to belong between the covers of a book, and while the high-octane banter between the characters is entertaining, diverting and, presumably, faithful to the milieu Leonard wants to capture, it can’t compensate for a plot that is as thin as a Hollywood starlet. It reads like a short story that somehow became so bloated with clever dialogue that it ended up with the page count of a full-blown novel.

Bernice Harrison is an Irish Timesjournalist

Bernice Harrison

Bernice Harrison

Bernice Harrison is an Irish Times journalist and cohost of In the News podcast