In the wake of the great Elmore Leonard’s death, I immediately felt a great sense of loss. Leonard was for decades a constant in my reading life, each book coming at me with fascinating characters and perfect dialogue; each book reminding me how forceful plain and simple prose can be. There is not a writer alive who could not benefit from Leonard's style, though few could ever match the imagination at play in such personal favorites of mine as "Hombre," "52 Pickup," "Gold Coast," "Killshot" and "Djibouti."
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I picked up a copy of his last book, "Raylan," but before opening it I visited the blog written by the great Henry Kisor (henrykisor.blogspot.com), and was richly rewarded.
Kisor was a colleague of mine on the Panorama section at the bygone Chicago Daily News and then at the Chicago Sun-Times, where he was the book review editor for nearly two decades. He was friend and a mentor and among the finest writers of his newspaper generation, which was some talented generation.
This is, edited with as much care as I could muster, his post about Leonard last month:
(Elmore Leonard) was ... a generous and thoughtful man, a Good Guy — a rarity among writers, who tend to be neurotic, self-obsessed and, frankly, uncharitable.
When I flew to Detroit to interview him around 1980 or 1981, he was well known to Western and mystery fans but not yet nationally famous. I told him I'd rent a car at the airport and drive out to his suburban home, but he wouldn't hear of it. "I'll pick you up," he said, "and take you back."
And so he did in his brand-new Saab sports car, though the drive took nearly an hour each way and the plane was late getting in.
I captured our interview on a little cassette recorder, for as a deaf journalist I couldn't trust the accuracy of my lipreading. Several times during the two-hour-long talk, he stopped and said, "Play it back. Let's make sure the thing is picking up everything." ...
He insisted I stay to lunch, a nice spread his wife, Joan, provided. ... At the time he was still putting food on the table with book reviews, and it wasn't until a few years later that the celebrity the movies made from his novels finally freed him from nickel-and-diming.
"It takes all day to do a book review," he observed. "Six hours of reading, an hour of writing, two hours of rewriting. All for seventy-five bucks."
If he spent more time rewriting than he did writing, that probably helps explain why he was so good.
At about 1 p.m. by my watch he said it was time to take me back to the airport. My plane didn't leave until 4 or so. Ah, he's finally tired of this, I thought, and wants to get rid of me. I didn't blame him. He'd spent most of the day on the interview and needed to get back to writing.
"Your watch is on Chicago time," he said with a smile. "We're on Eastern time."
I made the plane. I wouldn't have if (he) hadn't been so gracious.
That's a lovely anecdote, less than 400 words that tells you more about Leonard than any obituary I read. It also tells you a bit about Henry, too.
It doesn't tell you that he retired from the Sun-Times in 2006, or about his wife Debby, whom he charmingly refers to in print as "my Lady Friend," or their two grown sons and their families. Henry and Debby split their time between a home in Evanston and a log cabin on the shore of Lake Superior in the Upper Peninsula.
He has produced a pile of books. His first was 1990's remarkable "What's That Pig Outdoors: A Memoir of Deafness," and the last four mysteries starring the compelling Lakota-born deputy sheriff Steve Martinez.
Visit his blog and discover more about his books and about two other blogs, devoted to his passions for riding trains and taking photos. While you're there, jump back to the June 27 entry. It is his lament for death of the Sun-Times book section, where for so many years he fought the good fight.
Rick Kogan is a Tribune senior writer and columnist.Copyright © 2015, CT Now