You’re going to have to be patient with me for this review since it’s a bit of a departure from my usual. First, it was very hard for me to rate anything by Elmore Leonard a 3.5. It’s heartbreaking and not for lack of good stories. This collection, Leonard’s last, was published posthumously, and contains some of his early work. The stories show Leonard’s power as a writer and they show his start with writing and include engaging characters. These are stories with great potential and a bit of the grit that Leonard is most known for. But, the collection is early, unfinished, endeavors that were never quite fully fleshed out, polished or given the care that all of his great stories eventually received. There are fifteen stories in the collection–the first four are undated, the remaining range from 1954-1963, very early in Leonard’s career. Don’t misunderstand, they have great potential and all the things about Leonard that make him one of the best writers of this generation are still there, they are just unfinished.
With that said, you can see that care was taken to choose certain stories that were previously unpublished. Leonard was a very prolific writer and I imagine we’ll see another collection before long. This collection, though, doesn’t seem to have a common link to the stories other than their age and era. The collection includes a story or two that was published in the 1950s, but there isn’t a clear reason why a published story or two was included within the collection. Some of the stories introduce some of his later characters, such as Charlie Martz, a lawman and Eladio Montoya, a retired matador. The stories in the collection span the globe from Kuala Lumpur and the south of Spain to towns close to the U.S. and Mexico border and dodgy clubs in Detroit.
Although I’ve rated Charlie Martz and Other Stories a 3.5 overall, I suggest you read this collection if you want to see where one of the greats began. Read it as a precursor to other works of his you plan to read to see the progression. Or conversely, if you’ve read him and respect his work and wonder about some of the stories he wasn’t able to finish. Or read these to see what potential he had and mourn the stories we can only access in this current state, knowing that there is so much more, if there had been more time.
I told my friend that the family/estate/agent of Leonard didn’t do him justice, pushed this collection out unfinished, unpolished and not a reflection of his greatest work. I’ve changed that opinion. I think everyone has to start somewhere and I’m grateful that we have these stories to understand where it all began.
Part-time fiction writer, Alisha Churbe lives in Portland, Oregon. In the rare instances when you can pry her away from books, Alisha can be found travelling in foreign countries, cooking, or hiking with her husband Michael and dog Euro.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by William Morrow. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.