Elmore Leonard: Mr. Paradise

Elmore Leonard: Mr. Paradise

"Don't you thank god like I do they're stupid?" says a woman who works with Mr. Paradise protagonist Frank Delsa, a veteran Detroit cop still smarting from his wife's death. Delsa's coworker makes an excellent point. These days, Elmore Leonard plots his books less like battles of wits than like straight-faced farces with guns and bags of money. He lets the dumb bumble against the clever until one inevitably gets the better of the other. Delsa has an easier time of it than most Leonard heroes. Investigating the murder of a wealthy, aged lawyer and his underwear-model-turned-girlfriend-for-hire mistress, Delsa encounters a bitter employee who tries to pass off Kelly Barr, another beautiful woman of less questionable virtue, as the murdered mistress. Luckily, Barr has no interest in going along with the scheme, and great interest in getting to know Delsa better. Mr. Paradise marks the author's first full-scale return to Detroit in several years, but it's less a triumphant homecoming than a lounge-about vacation. No one reads Leonard for the plots anymore; they've become little more than delivery systems for his unique approach to dialogue and unforgettable characterization. Mr. Paradise's air of inevitability keeps it from gathering much momentum. Delsa and Barr seem to fall in love mostly because they're the leads in an Elmore Leonard novel, rather than out of the need and heat he usually invests in his characters. Even second-tier Leonard has much to recommend it, however. As usual, he stocks the background with instantly memorable characters, like the aging, silent servant who's spent decades inching toward a big payday, or the two-man hit squad unfamiliar with the advantages of stealth. Should Leonard decide to stick around Detroit for a while, he's already lined up a fine cast for more kinetic books than Mr. Paradise.

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