Writer Peter Leonard attends the Writers Bloc presents A Tribute to Elmore Leonard on January 21 in Santa Monica, Calif.
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Legacy is a tricky thing. It can help or it can hinder. It can assist with getting your name out there, but it also adds pressure and a world of expectations.
Take Joe Hill, for instance. Sure, everyone now knows he’s Stephen King’s son. But Hill, a fine writer in his own right, didn’t want to be burdened too soon with comparisons to his father. After all, pretty much every horror writer gets compared to the King of the genre, anyway, then add the fact you’re one of his brood and that pencil gets a lot heavier in your hand.
An author’s previous success can also cast a spell on an future projects. Just ask J.K. Rowling. She sought a true barometer as a mystery writer from an adult audience when she published last year’s The Cuckoo’s Calling under the pen name Robert Galbraith. The book received modest attention until an unscrupulous lawyer broke an oath, robbing her of the freeing anonymity of her pseudonym.
And that brings us to Peter Leonard, the 62-year-old son of the late Elmore Leonard, who died in August after writing nearly 50 books.
Peter Leonard published his sixth book, Eyes Closed Tight, last month. The book’s pages are crammed with trademark Leonardisms, from realistic dialogue full of rhythm and nuance to cool and colorful characters, quick to action. Neither does Peter Leonard bog down the story with narrative, which also is in line with his father’s writing philosophy.
Peter Leonard does stray from the family technique here and there — he’d be a fool to mimic Elmore’s voice. There definitely are hints of it, though, but it’s more homage than copycat.
Plus, this a mystery, and that requires plot, which is something the elder Leonard steered clear.
Former Detroit homicide detective O’Clair (we never do learn his first name) had his fill of Michigan winters and Motown murders, so we find him newly minted as a motel owner and operator in Pompano Beach, Fla. — along with his young and attractive live-in girlfriend, Virginia.
They’re living their dream, until O’Clair finds a dead prostitute on the beach in one of his motel lounge chairs. The killer had removed her eyes with an X-Acto knife, which leads O’Clair to help the inexperienced Pompano Beach homicide squad.
O’Clair’s search takes him back to Detroit to check on a cold case file with his former partner. He tracks down several leads and narrows the suspect list by using the skills of his former profession while also taking liberties he couldn’t when he was on the police force. All the while, the killer stalks a new target, Virginia.
The detective work performed by O’Clair and others in Eyes Closed Tight seems genuine and will attract the police procedural crowd — Leonard spent time with Detroit homicide and his research shows.
But it’s the characters, their voices, the way they talk and go about their business (we also see the story unfold from the killer’s perspective) that propel the reader page after page. Leonard’s got a real knack for it, just like his dad.
Peter Leonard says this was his first crack at writing a mystery novel — his father never did, which was part of the appeal — and probably his last, as he plans to return to crime fiction. And that truly is a mystery because he’s pretty good at it.
Contact Bob Cunningham at email@example.com or 419-724-6506.
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