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Review: In Elmore Leonard's 'Road Dogs,' crime pays with characters like these

Got to love Elmore Leonard's recycling program.

In more than 40 novels, Leonard has invented some of the most memorable characters in popular fiction. Unlike a lot of crime writers, he has never stuck with a series character or a single city, choosing to reinvent cast and milieu.

But some of his characters are just too much fun to leave behind. In his last book, Up in Honey's Room, he brought back Carl Webster, protagonist of The Hot Kid, for another adventure.

Leonard ups the ante in Road Dogs, corralling characters from three previous novels in Venice Beach, a town known as eccentric even in that most eccentric state, California.

Two of them meet in a penitentiary near Miami. Bank robber Jack Foley, last seen in Out of Sight, is serving 30 years; Marielito hit man (and part-time go-go dancer) Cundo Rey, from LaBrava, is in for murder, but he has, shall we say, extraordinary resources.

He helps Foley get his term reduced to three months. Foley will be released just weeks before Cundo, and they'll meet at the Cuban's home in California.

Waiting there is Cundo's squeeze, sexy Dawn Navarro, the psychic and con artist from Riding the Rap. Cundo is insanely jealous over Dawn and wants Foley to keep an eye on her.

Guess where that's going.

Once Leonard gets these three grifters together, the question isn't who's conning whom, since the answer is: everybody, and everybody.

The pleasure lies in watching Leonard spin their relationships, and in listening to their crisp, wisecracking dialogue, and in knowing the last twist won't come until the very end.

Lou Adams, the FBI agent dogging Foley and working on a book about his career as a bank robber, tells him, "You go straight, I won't have the finish I want." But Adams is an amateur.

Colette Bancroft can be reached at cbancroft@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8435. She blogs on Critics Circle at blogs.tampabay.com/arts.

Road Dogs

By Elmore Leonard

William Morrow, 262 pages, $26.99

Review: In Elmore Leonard's 'Road Dogs,' crime pays with characters like these 07/24/09 [Last modified: Friday, July 24, 2009 11:49am]

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