Tuesday, October 27, 2009

272. Get Shorty - Elmore Leonard

History: Published in 1990.
Plot: The book's story centers around Chili Palmer, a small-time shylock (or loanshark) based in Miami, who is sent after Leo Devoe, who has scammed an airline out of $300,000 in life insurance by faking his own death. Leo had been aboard a plane whose flight was delayed, prompting Leo to leave the plane and go drinking in the airport bar. Leo misses the plane's actual take off,and when it crashes Leo's "widow" is given a check for 300,000 dollars, money which Leo takes to Las Vegas. Leo's trail takes Chili to Las Vegas, where he finds a more interesting assignment: the casino is looking to collect from Harry Zimm, a horror film producer based in Los Angeles. Palmer, himself very interested in the movie industry, takes the extra assignment and heads for Los Angeles.
Palmer lets his interest in the movie industry overshadow his collection job. He sneaks into the house of Karen Flores (Zimm's friend) in the middle of the night, startling both Zimm and Flores, and after he tell Zimm he has to pay his Las Vegas markers,and then explains that he has a idea for a movie. Zimm is immediately taken in by Palmer's charm and his movie idea, although Flores is still skeptical. Palmer recounts Leo Devoe's story in the third person, and recalls chasing Leo to Las Vegas as if it were an uncompleted work of fiction. Flores in smart, and soon points out that the story clearly isn't fictional, she saw the plane crash the news in the past week, and Palmer is the obviously the shylock mentioned in the story. Soon, Zimm asks for Chili's helpin dealing with a good script he wants to buy. Zimm tells Chili that this script, "Mr. Lovejoy" could be Academy Award worthy material. In an altercation with Catlett, Zimm and Palmer tell him that, while his investmentin Freaks is sound, they are making another movie first. Catlett tells them to move the money into this new picture; Zimm says he cannot, as the new movie deal is "structured".
Meanwhile, Catlett is involved in a Mexican drug deal which doesn't go through. He has left the payment in a locker at the L.A. airport, but the Colombian sent to receive the money, Yayo Portillo (Catlett keeps calling him Yahoo), doesn't feel safe unlocking the locker with so many DEA agents staked out nearby. Catlett later meets Yayo back at his home, and after Yayo threatens to tell the DEA who Bo is, Bo shoots him.
Catlett soon offers the locker money to Zimm as an investment, telling him to send Palmer to get the money. Palmer senses something amiss, signs out a nearby locker as a test, and surely enough is taken for questioning by drug officials when he tries to open it.
Palmer and Flores are meanwhile seeking the interests of Martin Weir (the title character), a top-tier Hollywood actor to whom Flores was once married, to play the lead in Zimm's film.
The loose ends are tied up when Barboni comes to Los Angeles looking for the money Palmer collected from Leo Devoe only to find the key to the locker from the failed drug deal in one of Palmer's pockets. Thinking Palmer has stashed his cash in a locker, he goes to the airport and is busted by drug officials. In a final showdown with Catlett, Catlett is double-crossed by his partner, Bear.
The novel ends with Zimm, Palmer and Flores having visited a few production studios and wondering why writing the ending of a story was always the hardest part.
Review: On one level the book is pure Leonard an exciting underworld story with great street talk and those edgy characters that he does so well. On another level the book is a social satire and, with its shift from Vegas to L.A., shows us a contemporary world lost in greed and seduced by show biz. Palmer's easy success as a producer (in essence doing his own life story) is a thinly veiled commentary on the shallowness of Hollywood and the lack of skill of many of its leaders.
Opening Line: "When Chili first came to Miami Beach twelve years ago they were having one of their off-and-on cold winters: thirty-four degrees the day he met Tommy Carlo or lunch at Vesuvios's on South Collins and had his leather jacket ripped off."
Closing Line: "Goddamn endings, man, They weren't as easy as they looked."
Quotes: ''That's what you do, man, you put down one word after the other as it comes in your head. It isn't like having to learn how to play the piano, like you have to learn notes. You already learned in school how to write, didn't you? I hope so. You have the idea and you put down what you want to say. Then you get somebody to add in the commas . . . where they belong, if you aren't positive yourself. Maybe fix up the spelling where you have some tricky words. There people do that for you. Some, I've even seen scripts where I know words weren't spelled right and there was hardly any commas in it. So I don't think it's too important.''
Rating: mediocre

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