Nostalgia City Mysteries

Mark S. Bacon

A look back at Leonard and ‘Killshot’

Killshot: A novel
Elmore Leonard
William Morrow Paperbacks; Reprint edition   304 pages
Originally published 1989
$11.71 paperback   $9.78 Kindle

Armand Degas, aka Blackbird, an Ojibway Indian, is a cold-blooded professional hitman taking his jobs and payments from Detroit mobsters.   He meets Richie Nix, a cheap, addle-brained crook when Nix tries to rob him. Although Degas–Bird–realizes Nix is a loose cannon, and then some, the two form a loose partnership in crime. Nix also kills people–but only when they piss him off.

Iron worker Wayne Colson and his wife Carmen become the two killers’ targets in Elmore Leonard’s acclaimed Killshot. The essence of the story is simply a chase: two killers versus two seemingly ill-fated citizens. Simple in concept, elegant in execution, Killshot is a character-driven story about four diverse people who you will come to know well. In Leonard’s hands, the four become real as the author fleshes out the complex relationships between Wayne and Carmen and Bird and Nix.

When Leonard died late last year, he had written nearly 50 novels. He first wrote westerns, such as The 3:10 to Yuma, but when the genre started to fade, he turned to crime. In Leonard’s obituary, Los Angeles Times writer Dennis McLellan said the author, “populated his novels with con men, hustlers and killers, with names like Chili, Stick and Ordell. He plunged readers into a sea of urban sleaze, spiking his tales with mordant humor and moral ambivalence.”

Killshot fits this description. Most of the story takes place in dreary marshland in southern Michigan near the Canadian border.  While the killers are adept at dispatching folks, the various law enforcement representatives provide the Coulsons little solace or effective protection. In fact, one member of the U.S. Marshals Service becomes a menace.Killshot

I prefer mysteries to straight crime novels, but I’d never read Leonard and the news of his passing brought a variety of stories about his work. I chose Killshot as it was recommended by several sources as one of Leonard’s best. It’s a gripping, nuanced tale of love, fear, vengeance, death, and the responsibilities we owe to those we love and to others.   The killers are developed characters and Coulsons are not your usual terrified quarries.

The ending of the novel is reminiscent of the final scene in a popular 1996 crime film (unrelated to Killshot). It’s a suitable, agreeable ending as it solidifies our image of Wayne and Carmen and original because the novel predates the film by seven years.

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