Elmore Leonard is an easy author to read. You just open the book to the first page. You just read the first sentence. Then you’re on the next sentence. Then the next. And hours have passed and you realize that there are no more sentences to read. That you’ve read all of them.
Elmore Leonard’s not a difficult author. There are no deep truths revealed. He’s not writing grand essays on the human condition. He’s not concerned with man’s inhumanity to man. He just wants to tell a story.
And Elmore Leonard tells good stories.
His newest work is Up in Honey’s Room, and it stars Carl Webster, the U.S. Marshall hero of his last novel, The Hot Kid. A number of years have passed and the U.S. has gone through a depression and is now embroiled in World War Two. Two German prisoners of war have escaped from a POW camp in Oklahoma and have headed for Detroit. And Carl decides to find them.
The Honey of Honey’s Room is Honey Deal, an attractive escapee of the South making it on her own in Detroit. Her problem: Right before the war, she was married to a man named Walter who was born in Germany and who feels that it’s his role in life to perform a special act to show his love of Adolph Hitler. And there are the spies, Vera and Bo, who alternately try to help Walter and try to kill Walter. And there are Jurgen and Otto, the POWs. And Honey meets Carl then she meets Jurgen and she gets caught in Walter’s grand plan and Carl, being a married man, has to battle his lust for Honey. And since it’s an Elmore Leonard story, there are a couple of killings, a little sex, lots and lots of great dialogue, and ample doses of humor.
Leonard writes a good story. There are never any wasted characters. Never any wasted pages. Never any wasted words. He’s a simple writer. Noun. Verb. Maybe an adjective. But in this simplicity is a font of detail. You feel the grime of Detroit. You see the dust of Oklahoma. You smell the cigarettes being smoked by the characters. You know how his characters walk. How they hold their heads. You know this, but he never tells you this. He lets you fill in the details. But he leaves you with very few options as to what the details must be.
If there is one fault with Up in Honey’s Room, it’s Carl Webster. And not so much in the character, a great character who could easily be played by George Clooney in the inevitable movie. It’s that Leonard uses pages rehashing the exploits of Carl Webster, exploits which were detailed in The Hot Kid. Now, when Leonard loves a character, he uses that character in multiple works. Sometimes a minor character becomes the star, sometimes the star becomes a minor. Sometimes the minor character remains the minor character. But generally, when Leonard uses a character from one novel to another, he assumes you know the history of the character, and if you don’t, it’s generally not a big deal because all that’s needed to be known about the character is revealed in the pages of the current book.
But Carl Webster’s supposed to be a man of great exploits. Of great exploits that have been documented in newspapers and magazines and a book. And various characters rehash these exploits, or ask him to rehash his exploits, and it feels at times as if I’m reading The Hot Kid, and not Up in Honey’s Room.
But I quibble with minor matters. And trust me, this is minor quibble. Anyone who reads Elmore Leonard on a consistent basis knows that minor quibbles are all that you ever get. Because the guy’s just that good.
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Up in Honey’s Room is not Elmore Leonard’s best work. It’s not Out of Sight. Or Stick. Or Cuba Libre. But saying something is not Elmore Leonard’s best work is not being negative. Most writers would kill to write something of this quality.
It’s a good book. It grips you with good characters. And a good plot. And that great Leonard dialogue. You’re going to open the first page. You’re going to read the first sentence. And the next. And the next. And you’re going to find yourself in Detroit in 1944. You’ll be in a room with Carl Webster, flirting with Honey Deal while a German POW hides nearby. And you’re going to be having fun. You’re going to be living the dream. And it’ll be all over.
Until the next Elmore Leonard novel. When it starts all over again. – John Royal
Up in Honey's Room, by Elmore Leonard, William Morrow, $25.95