Hombre, by Elmore Leonard — a review

Hombre

I am an Elmore Leonard fan.

You are, too. Probably. He passed away in 2013 from complications due to a stroke, at age 87. A good, long life. During his time, he was responsible for the books (and movies) Get Shorty, Mr. Majestyk, and Out of Sight, among many, many others. His writing was visual, dialogue-heavy, and extremely well-suited for adaptation to the silver screen.

I was a fan of Mr. Leonard’s writing first, and the movies created from his work second. I still believe this is the correct order in which to experience the genius that was Elmore Leonard.

It’s no surprise, then, that I’ve never seen the movie Hombre, based on the Elmore Leonard western novel Hombre, and starring no less than Paul Newman in the role of John Russell, who is undeniably the hero of the novel. Having read the synopsis of the movie, I think I’m better off having not watched it. The novel was a stripped-down, easy-to-follow story about a white man raised by Apaches having to protect the passengers on a stagecoach from very bad guys. It doesn’t have the expected Hollywood ending, so be warned. The movie sounds like something completely different, and infinitely more complicated. Even though I consider myself a Newman fan, I doubt I’ll be seeking out this particular addition to his oeuvre.

I occasionally like to read westerns as a mental palate cleanser. Westerns are fantasy novels. Never doubt that. But, they’re based on a particular period in American history, and they are usually examples of pure storytelling. Straightforward plots and un-ambiguous endings. Usually, the good guys win, which is a plus. I like to sometimes watch western movies for the same reasons.

Elmore Leonard is one of my favorite western authors, along with Louis L’Amour, Bill Pronzini, Brian Garfield, Larry McMurtry, Loren D. Estleman, Edward Gorman and Robert B. Parker. It is a valid genre of fiction that I continue to enjoy to this day.

It’s no accident that most of these guys who wrote westerns excelled at detective and mystery fiction as well.

This one is an easy, entertaining read. I read most of it in airports or in the air during our recent trip to Wisconsin for our oldest grandchild’s wedding. I finished it up during the last leg of our trip home.

This was not my favorite Leonard novel, I feel I must add. Not even my favorite of his westerns I’ve read to-date (that honor currently goes to Valdez is Coming — although Leonard himself called Cuba Libre a “tropical western,” so that one’s definitely in the running). But, even an Elmore Leonard novel that doesn’t make my “best of” list is better than most of what can be read out there.

Hollywood seems to still enjoy making remakes of old movies. I’d watch a movie based faithfully on this novel before I’d watch the one named Hombre that already exists. I’m not sure that could ever happen. Quentin Tarantino (who turned Leonard’s Rum Punch into the very good Jackie Brown) could do something great with this story. And, he wouldn’t shy away from the bloody ending.

Firewater’s Back-in-the-Saddle Report Card: B

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This is a solid grade-B. Maybe nothing to brag too loudly about, but certainly nothing to be ashamed of. Not the jumping-off point I’d recommend if you’ve yet to dive into Leonard’s prodigious backlog, but definitely a pleasant diversion somewhere down the road, after you’re already secure in the hands of an American master.

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