Written by Books

Swag by Elmore Leonard


I’ve recently begun a rewatch of perhaps the best TV adaptation of Elmore Leonard – Justitifed with Timothy Olyphant. I’m halfway through the second season. But I happened to be in Heffers in Cambridge recently where they have famously good Crime Fiction section. Richard Reynolds is their crime fiction expert, and earlier this year he put together a list of a hundred favourite crime fiction books.

I spent a while at a vast table of them, before picking up Swag because it’s an Elmore Leonard that I’ve not read (he wrote a lot, so I’ve plenty still to read), and it had made the cut in his catalogue ahead of other perhaps more famous titles.

Leonard famously keeps things tight, and doesn’t use verbose language when none is truly required. In Swag, first published in 1976, we meet a pair of chancers – one currently working as car salesman, the other a thief who tries to steal a car from the former’s dealership. Instead of helping with the prosecution, Frank gets Stick off the hook, and they take up together to start a series of armed robberies.

Frank has drawn up a list of ten things they should do to avoid capture, and the money seems to come easily. They move into a smart new apartment block, surrounded by attractive neighbours. But of course things don’t stay pleasant for too long.

You don’t really come to Leonard for complex plotting. You come for the characterisations, the humour and the stupidity. The dialogue rips backwards and forwards. The reader’s perspective is shifted as needed, and you’re soon finished.

I need to read more Leonard.