Review

The Hot Kid

by Elmore Leonard



I have come to the conclusion that there is no reliable measure by
which the magnitude of Elmore Leonard's ability can be gauged. He
was at one point referred to, with some accuracy, as America's most
popular unknown author. He is no longer unknown; he has, in fact,
created his own subgenre of sorts, inhabited by tough guys, clever
guys, and tender and tougher women. One can never predict what is
going to happen in an Elmore Leonard novel, or even what he will
pick as subject matter from one work to the next. At a point when
an author of his stature, of his talent, could phone in a reliably
entertaining work, Leonard continues to test, and stretch, the
boundaries that he previously marked off.

So now Leonard favors us with THE HOT KID, a work set in the
Oklahoma of the 1930s. It is Leonard's most ambitious, and arguably
best, work to date, rich in dialogue, characters, and subtle
contrasts. Leonard focuses primarily on Carl Webster and Jack
Belmont, two men of not-dissimilar backgrounds with divergent
career paths. Webster's father is a career Oklahoma pecan farmer
who became wealthy quite by accident when oil was discovered on his
land. Belmont's father deliberately sought oil and found it,
becoming a millionaire by arduous and dangerous trial and
error.

Both men seem to have their respective courses set in their teen
years --- Webster's through a chance encounter with an outlaw,
Belmont's through a family tragedy that he precipitates out of
misfeasance at best and malfeasance at worst. They each fashion a
rebellion of sorts against their fathers. Webster rejects his
father's gentle entreaties to continue the family pecan farm
business by becoming a U.S. Marshal. He quickly grows famous for
his killing of a notorious bank robber, as well as his code of
honor. Belmont, for his part, also rejects his father but in a more
heinous manner. He blows up one of his father's oil derricks, then
by turns attempting to blackmail him and kidnapping his paramour,
before embarking on a bankrobbing spree throughout Oklahoma and
Kansas.

It isn't long before Webster is on Belmont's trail. Belmont,
however, wants to be Public Enemy Number One, and the quickest way
for him to acquire that title is to hunt Webster.

Part of Leonard's appeal always has been his ability to breathe
characters upon the printed page, and he never has done so more
sharply than on the pages of THE HOT KID, etching good and evil in
bas relief and highlighting where the boundaries meet and blur.
Leonard also subtly paints the rise and fall of fortunes in
Oklahoma --- a trajectory that played itself out over the course of
a decade --- against the backdrop of a tale of easy money, easier
women, and rough justice. This is a masterful tale, told by The
Master.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 22, 2011

The Hot Kid
by Elmore Leonard

  • Publication Date: May 10, 2005
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow
  • ISBN-10: 0060724226
  • ISBN-13: 9780060724221