No one is quite like Elmore Leonard, the living legend of crime
fiction literature. Leonard, who was writing fiction before most of
his current audience (myself included) could hold a pencil
properly, has written dozens of novels, classic western short
stories, and memorable television screenplays. All of his
characters --- Detroit con men, Spanish-American War
heroes, Miami grifters, western desperadoes and faith healers ---
are utterly believable. The statement "[H]e is like something out
of an Elmore Leonard book" immediately evokes the image of a
wisecracking con-man who is one step ahead of the game. His
admirers include diverse personalities such as George Will and
Quentin Tarantino. And his audience will surely grow larger with
the publication of BE COOL.
BE COOL marks the return of Chili Palmer, last seen in Leonard's
novel GET SHORTY. Chili, a loan shark, con man, and movie director,
is always looking for an angle. He is inspired, in a very dramatic
manner, to make a film about the music industry. Since he knows
nothing about the music industry, he decides to get involved in it
in order to learn about it, thus giving new meaning to the term
"method directing." Chili, however, is going to be Chili, no matter
what situation he finds himself in. And Chili is a magnet for
trouble even when he has the best intentions --- which, of course,
is rarely. He soon finds himself involved with the Russian Mafia,
shady record promotion men, a would-be chanteuse, gangsta' rappers,
a gay Samoan bodyguard, and an organized crime investigator who
doesn't know whose side Chili is on --- or should be
Chili proves himself adept at playing one group against the other
when he can profit from the conflict or when he needs to get
himself out of trouble --- which is most of the time. Although he
demonstrates a chameleon-like ability to adapt to any situation, he
ultimately finds that he may have bitten off more than he can chew.
To survive, he has to be Chili --- he must BE COOL.
Once again, Leonard has given us a novel filled with twists, turns,
dead-on dialogue, surprises, suspense, and --- most importantly ---
By the way, if you're the type of person who loans books to
friends, attach a rubber band to your copy of BE COOL. A long one.
Otherwise you will never get your copy back.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 21, 2011