Remembering Elmore Leonard

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First aired on The National (20/8/13)

Elmore Leonard died yesterday at the age of 87, after having a stroke earlier this month. He wrote in a number of genres, but crime stories with cool anti-heroes -- Get Shorty, Out of Sight and Rum Punch among them -- made him famous.

Leonard's work was successful because his characters became more than bad guys: they felt real to readers. "I think about the guy in his off moments, when he's doing ordinary things, when he's eating his breakfast, when he's sleeping, when he sneezes," Leonard once said. This approach worked, as more than 20 of Leonard's works were adapted into movies or television shows and many of his 40 plus novels would become bestsellers and crime fiction classics.

Leonard didn't just receive commercial success, he was also critically acclaimed. In 2008, he was awarded the F. Scott Fitzgerald Literary Award for outstanding achievement in American literature and in 2012, he received the National Book Award Medal for Distinguished Contribution. 

Other authors respected him immensely as well. As Canadian author Andrew Pyper puts it, Leonard's books "seem to be crime novels, they seem to be pulp fiction when really, I think they are dark comedies about the absurdity of the American condition."