Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Two Leonards


I read recently two books by father and son, Elmore and Peter Leonard. Elmore is a self-deserved classic and Peter is a new-comer, albeit he's over 50. Both are simply great.

Elmore's best-known western novel, Valdez Is Coming, was just translated for the first time in Finnish (partly due to my suggestion to the publisher). In fact, it was Leonard's first western translated in Finnish (apart from a short story in Seikkailujen Maailma in the 1950s), which is surprising. Then again, Leonard had only two crime novel translations in the paperback series of the seventies and sixties (both, Mr Majestyk and 52 Pick-Up, are very good and come highly recommended), so there might've been some issues with his agent. Leonard's had a bit of bad luck with Finnish publishers even later on, with publishers changing almost from book to book and the publishers treating him with bad translations and not very good covers and bad marketing. Some of his earlier masterpieces are still left untranslated, so it's even more fabulous that Valdez Is Coming is now available in Finnish (the Finnish publisher is Bookkari, by the way).

The book is famous also for having been filmed, by Edwin Sherrin in the early seventies, with Burt Lancaster. The film is remarkable for keeping Leonard's ending intact - in the 2000's it would've been changed into a lengthy gunfight. This ending is more in par with Leonard's terse prose and the worldview of his characters: do, don't just tell you're doing. It's something deeper than the old advice "show, don't tell". Leonard's style and narration are always about what needs to be done, what's necessary to do. Thus the emotions of his characters come clear, even though there's not much talk about them per se.

Valdez Is Coming must be one of the best western novels ever.

A minor bibliographical point: the Finnish edition has the original publishing year as 1970. That was however the year when the book was published in the USA, by Fawcett. The book had come out from the British lending library publisher Robert Hale a year before that, as a hardcover (which seems to be very rare), so the actual first publishing year is 1969.

Elmore's son, Peter, has written two novels so far (actually three, the third one just hasn't been published as yet). The Turku-based literary publisher Sammakko picked Leonard's books up, for which I'm very glad, and his first, Quiver from 2008, was just published in Finnish under the title Ihmismetsällä ("Man Hunting"). Peter Leonard came to Finland to promote the book (I got to change only a few words with him, but he seemed like a very nice guy). The book is excellent. It's more in a thriller vein than Elmore's books, but it's still strictly hardboiled. Peter has learned a lot from his father: the pace, narration, style all bear the marks of Elmore. The best thing about the book is that Peter Leonard can make his characters full-rounded by using only small things, bits of dialogue, short reminiscences of their pasts. Just like his father does.

I'm really looking forward to reading more Peter Leonard from Sammakko. I think Leonard's second novel, Trust Me, is coming pretty soon, but don't quote me on it.

What I'm even more glad about is the fact that some other publishers have also noted the new rise of hardboiled and noir writing. Count in also Josh Bazell's Beat the Reaper which came out from Siltala just one or two weeks ago as Niittaa noutaja. A crime reader like me couldn't be happier.

1 comment:

Tero said...

Valitettavasti Valdez on nimenomaisesti esimerkki huterasta toteutuksesta - käännös on huolimaton ja painovirheitä vilisee. Kappalejaostakaan ei ole huolehdittu.

-Tero Vainio