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Posted on Tue, Aug 20, 2013 : 12:05 p.m.

Elmore Leonard remembered by locals as a good guy who wrote about bad guys

By Jenn McKee

Though prolific, Detroit-based crime (and western) writer Elmore Leonard - who died Tuesday morning at his Bloomfield Township home at age 87 - carved out a legacy by writing about bad guys, he seems, from all accounts, to have been the consummate good guy.


Elmore Leonard

“He was good to me,” said Loren Estleman, a fellow crime and western author who lives in Whitmore Lake. “ … Dutch was a good friend. He helped out my writing career tremendously by providing several quotes for my books. … He almost always came through. I’m deeply saddened. I knew he couldn’t live forever, but he was a good guy.”

Jamie Agnew, co-owner of Ann Arbor’s mystery bookstore Aunt Agatha’s, had tried to bring Leonard in for an event for many years. “If you sell mystery books in this area, you want to do an event with Elmore Leonard,” said Agnew. “We tried to in different ways, but we’re so small, and we weren’t plugged in to his publisher.”

However, after Aunt Agatha’s hosted a book event for Leonard’s son, Peter, Agnew ran into Peter Leonard and said the store would love to host an event for his second book.

“Peter said, ‘Can I bring along Elmore?’” said Agnew. “I said, ‘Well, OK. You can drag the old guy along if you want.’ The event ended up at the library, with Elmore and Peter, and Loren Estleman acting as moderator, asking questions, and it was definitely the highlight of our career. He was an unfailingly gracious and nice guy. … There was this long line (of people waiting for his autograph), and he stayed until the line was gone, even though, at the end, you could tell he was worn out.”

Estleman and Leonard, meanwhile, shared a mutual love of movies.

“They had a great influence on our writing,” said Estleman. “I think, if Raymond Chandler created the language of crime film in the ‘40s, Leonard did the same for crime films in the early 20th century. You hear echoes of his dialogue everywhere.”

You may also, of course, witness the way Leonard painted the city of Detroit as an important character in many of his works.

“He was definitely prescient about the direction that Detroit was going in, but he also captured the humanity of its people, and the gritty courage of Detroit,” said Agnew. “You look at something like (the Detroit-set AMC series) ‘Low Winter Sun’ and you definitely see his influence.”

“He always had an upbeat attitude toward Detroit, which I always admired,” said Estleman. “Mine is more downbeat, and our styles are very different, but I learned a lot about dialogue from his books.”

Estleman last saw Leonard a couple of years ago, after accepting a lifetime achievement award on Leonard's behalf, and then delivering it to him. “He paused to grin over that,” said Estleman, who also admired Leonard’s lesser-known work in the western genre. “ … He changed western writing, though that’s not celebrated as often.”

But why and how, in a sea of published mystery writers, did Leonard distinguish himself from the crowd?

“He really cut to the chase,” said Agnew. “And I think people respected his craft, the simplicity of his writing, and his intelligence. He was uncompromising. He wrote what he wanted to write. He didn’t follow trends or worry about political correctness. He did what he did, and he did it really well.”

Jenn McKee is an entertainment reporter for Reach her at or 734-623-2546, and follow her on Twitter @jennmckee.


Jenn McKee

Wed, Aug 21, 2013 : 2:42 p.m.

Mr. Estleman said that one of his favorite Leonard novels is a western called "Hombre," while Agnew liked his gritty crime novels, like "52 Pick Up." Any other favorites floating around out there? Amazingly, Leonard was in the process of finishing up his 46th novel when he died.

John Counts

Wed, Aug 21, 2013 : 2:49 a.m.

I picked up my first Elmore Leonard paperback 20 years ago as a 15 year old punk suburban Detroit kid and have read his voluminous output ever since. He gave more life to the language and characters of the entire region than any other writer. His fame was truly deserved and our area's culture is much richer for having him around for so many years to write such thrilling books. Be cool, Dutch.

Tom Teague

Tue, Aug 20, 2013 : 10:01 p.m.

I had the honor of sitting across from Elmore -- twice -- over dinner at a mutual friend's home. He could have held us all in complete thrall with stories of writing and Hollywood and celebrity. Instead, I was struck at how curious he was about others' experiences. He asked a lot of questions about our backgrounds and our interests and helped the group find connections with each other. It was a lesson I'll always remember.


Tue, Aug 20, 2013 : 9:37 p.m.

Good people keep checking out on me, making me want to sing this song. Today it was my man Elmore Leonard. I'm very glad he kept working until the bitter end. He gives us something to shoot for.


Tue, Aug 20, 2013 : 7:03 p.m.

Get Shorty- a classic movie based on Mr.Leonard's novel of the same name. He got old too soon. Thanks for this interesting article.

Keith Hafner

Tue, Aug 20, 2013 : 6:45 p.m.

What a body of work! How many hours of enjoyment were the result of Mr. Leonard's craft?


Tue, Aug 20, 2013 : 5:03 p.m.

Rest in Peace Mr. Leonard. You brought a lot of enjoyment to a lot of people.