If changing your life was this simple, why was he ever concerned about the everyday stuff? Elmore Leonard, Rum Punch

Nothing to it. If changing your life was this simple, why was he ever concerned about the everyday stuff, writing fifteen thousand criminal offenders? He said to Jackie, ‘Okay,’ and was committed, more certain of his part in this than hers. Until she stood close to him in the kitchen and he lifted the skirt up over her thighs, looking at this girl in a summer dress, fun in her eyes, and knew they were in it together.

—Elmore Leonard, Rum Punch, chapter 20

“Fun in her eyes” has to be among the most Leonardish phrases out there. His books are populated largely with women with fun in their eyes. There’s a great bit in Djibouti about how the heroine is feeling, standing on the deck of a cargo ship in the Red Sea, as the plot she’s involved in ravels or unravels, I can’t remember which. She’s cool, curious, slightly excited; she appears in pretty much every Leonard book.

In Rum Punch, the bail bondsman, Max Cherry, gets these lines above, and maybe he’s actually the cool, curious one in this book; Jackie Burke, his love interest, takes more of an active role in the plot than is usual for a Leonard female protagonist.

I like the quote because it illustrates why Leonard’s oeuvre is so attractive to read; instead of a thriller, where the reader is pulled into the story by empathy for the protagonist’s troubles, in Leonard’s books the protagonist pulls the reader along by sharing just how interesting life has gotten. During the course of Rum Punch Max gets involved in heisting several hundred thousand dollars, a vault into the upper middle class that allows him to quit his day job and file divorce papers with his estranged spouse. Max is able to rise above the existential dread that you or I would feel while on such a voyage of self-reinvention, but that’s why it’s a book and not real life. As I’ve mentioned before, people who radically alter their circumstances in the course of 300 pages are a genre of people who you only meet in books.

‘She bought screwdrivers, iron files, hacksaw blades and hammers; baling wire, nylon twine and bungee cords.’ –M. Connelly

The pleasures of reading mass-market literature extend to the
simplicity with which you can excerpt your favorite parts for later
commentary. As you can see from the first attached picture, forty-nine
out of the 50 chapters of Michael Connelly’s Void Moon remained
in the airplane where I read them. I saved chapter 5, which has the
best writing in the entire book.
The list can function as a shortcut to good writing. It’s all nouns,
and no prescriptivist, not even Elmore Leonard, would suggest that you could improve your
writing by leaving the nouns out. A good list creates a minimal,
dynamic, ready-for-action mood, quite like the mood of Void
that this chapter introduces. Cassie Black has decided to
rededicate her life to crime. Connelly provides one last simile
(though he confuses the role of arteries and veins) before crossing
the Rubicon into list territory:

The charge of outlaw juice was boiling in her blood now, banging through her veins like hot water through frozen winter pipes.

 She began by changing her body clock, dramatically shortening her sleeping hours and pushing them well into the morning. She offset the sleep deprivation with a regimen of energy-enhancing vitamins…Within a week she had dropped from seven to four hours of sleep per night.…

 After carefully making a list of every conceivable thing that would help her overcome any obstacle on a job, she memorized its contents and destroyed it…

 She bought screwdrivers, iron files, hacksaw blades and hammers; baling wire, nylon twine and bungee cords. She bought a box of latex gloves, a small tub of earthquake wax, a Swiss Army knife and a painter’s putty knife with a three-inch-wide blade. She bought a small acetylene torch and went to three hardware stores before finding a small enough battery-powered and rechargeable drill. She bought rubber-tipped pliers, wire cutters and aluminum shears. She added a Polaroid camera and a man’s long-sleeved wetsuit top to her purchases. She bought big and small flashlights, a pair of tile worker’s knee pads and an electric stun gun. She bought a black leather backpack, a black fanny pack and belt, and several black zipper bags of varying sizes that could be folded and carried inside one of the backpack’s pockets. Lastly, in every store she went to she bought a keyed padlock, amassing a collection of seven locks made by seven different manufacturers and thereby containing seven slightly different interior locking mechanisms.

 You couldn’t write an entire book like this, but it makes a nice
change from the following paragraph, which in its subjunctive mood is
echt Connolly. His characters are always introspectively
calculating the angles and predicting their lots thereby:

If the tool satchel were ever discovered by Thelma Kibble or any other law enforcement officer, Cassie would have a degree of deniability that might keep her out of lockdown. The car was not hers. Without prints on the tools or evidence of her having purchased and made them, it ultimately could not be proved that they belonged to her. They could hold her and sweat her but they would eventually have to let her go.

One of these days I am going to crack open Jacques Ellul’s The
Technological Society
again and drawing on his distinctions between
craft and technique, write a big academic treatise on the false
techno-realism of thriller novels. If I knew so much about what it
took to break into a Las Vegas hotel room, I would be doing it myself
and not writing novels about it. Luckily the march of progress makes
books like Void Moon, from the late 90s, seem as hopelessly
anchored in the past as Sherlock Holmes’s exploits in Arthur Conan
Doyle’s The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans