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Book Review of: Road Dogs

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Review of Road Dogs by Elmore Leonard (Hardcover, 2009)

(You can print this review in landscape mode, if you want a hardcopy)

Reviewer: Mark Lamendola, author of over 6,000 articles.

This is a 272-page novel by one of the all-time great novelists. You probably have to like the genre to truly appreciate the book, because the characters are probably not people you can relate to. They are career criminals, ex-cons, and losers in general. If you read the book Get Shorty or watched the movie, you understand how Elmore Leonard so fully and believably develops characters. This novel, like his others, is character-driven.

In this novel, I recognized three characters from previous works. The interaction of these characters allows the story to have some surprising twists to it. In a previous novel, it seemed Jack Foley was essentially "killed off" unless Leonard was going to write in prison novel. I didn't expect to see Foley again, but here he is.

Jack Foley is a bank robber, one who may hold the all-time record for the number of banks robbed. Most of us would consider someone in this line of "work" to be among the lowest of society's parasite class. It's a credit to Leonard that he can write such a character in a way that we see him as human and find ourselves rooting for him. He does have some redeeming qualities and comes across as deeply flawed but not hopelessly so. In fact, at his core, Foley has a certain integrity and confidence that we can only admire.

While in prison, Foley hooks up with another character from a previous Leonard novel: Cundo Rey. They become, in prison parlance, "road dogs," meaning they watch out for each other. Rey, who owns a hugely successful business on the outside, arranges for expert legal help to get Foley released early. So early, as to be just before Rey's own release. That particular scheduling allows for some interesting things to happen.

Rey's wife, Dawn Navarro, is a seductive, manipulative, and clever character from a previous Leonard novel. She's been biding her time for the eight years of Rey's incarceration.

Other characters enter the story, moving the plot along and providing challenges and assistance to the three lead characters. One is Lou Adams, an FBI agent who is determined to catch Foley again and put him away for good. Another is Little Jimmy, who is Rey's money man and who actually runs Rey's business. Where his loyalties lie is a pivotal question in this novel.

Foley finds himself immersed in a cauldron of games, emotions, subterfuge, betrayal, and deception. As in previous novels, he keeps his cool.

I enjoyed the book, though I think the note from the publisher (first page facing inside cover) was a bit of oversell. I don't consider Leonard's greatest work ever. But it's good. It's definitely got the Elmore Leonard touch to it. And it's very entertaining. Probably, this will be made into another entertaining movie. Let's hope so.



About these reviews

You may be wondering why the reviews here are any different from the hundreds of "reviews" posted online. Notice the quotation marks?

I've been reviewing books for sites like Amazon for many years now, and it dismays me that Amazon found it necessary to post a minimum word count for reviews. It further dismays me that it's only 20 words. If that's all you have to say about a book, why bother?

And why waste everyone else's time with such drivel? As a reader of such reviews, I feel like I am being told that I do not matter. The flippancy of people who write these terse "reviews" is insulting to the authors also, I would suspect.

This sound bite blathering taking the place of any actual communication is increasingly a problem in our mindless, blog-posting Webosphere. Sadly, Google rewards such pointlessness as "content" so we just get more if this inanity.

My reviews, contrary to current (non) standards, actually tell you about the book. I always got an "A" on a book review I did as a kid (that's how I remember it anyhow, and it's my story so I'm sticking to it). A book review contains certain elements and has a logical structure. It informs the reader about the book.

A book review may also tell the reader whether the reviewer liked it, but revealing a reviewer's personal taste is not necessary for an informative book review.

About your reviewer

  • Books are a passion of mine. I read dozens of them each year, plus I listen to audio books.
  • Most of my "reading diet" consists of nonfiction. I think life is too short to use your limited reading time on material that has little or no substance. That leads into my next point...
  • In 1990, I stopped watching television. I have not missed it. At all.
  • I was first published as a preteen. I wrote an essay, and my teacher submitted it to the local paper.
  • For six years, I worked as an editor for a trade publication. I left that job in 2002, and still do freelance editing and authoring for that publication (and for other publications).
  • No book has emerged from my mind onto the best-seller list. So maybe I'm presumptuous in judging the work of others. Then again, I do more describing than judging in my reviews. And I have so many articles now published that I stopped counting them at 6,000. When did I stop? Probably 20,000 articles ago! (It's been a while).
  • I have an engineering degree and an MBA, among other "quant" degrees. That helps explain my methodical approach toward reviews.
  • You probably don't know anybody who has made a perfect or near perfect score on a test of Standard Written English. I have. So, a credential for whatever it's worth.

About reading style

No, I do not "speed read" through these. That said, I do read at a fast rate. But, in contrast to speed reading, I read everything when I read a book for review.

Speed reading is a specialized type of reading that requires skipping text as you go. Using this technique, I've been able to consistently "max out" a speed reading machine at 2080 words per minute with 80% comprehension. This method is great if you are out to show how fast you can read. But I didn't use it in graduate school and I don't use it now. I think it takes the joy out of reading, and that pleasure is a big part of why I read.

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