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Elmore Leonard

Author;

Born: October 11, 1925, Died: August 20, 2013.

ELMORE Leonard, who has died aged 87, was one of crime fiction's most prolific and influential writers, as admired by Hollywood producers and directors as he was by millions of ordinary readers, who adored his laconic, inimitable prose style, colourful characters and mastery of dialogue.

Martin Amis was a huge admirer of Leonard's, and once told him that his books were also a favourite of Saul Bellow's. Three years ago, when the American chapter of PEN presented Leonard with a lifetime achievement award, it observed that his books "are not only classics of the crime genre, but some of the best writing of the last half-century."

A message on his website yesterday read: "Elmore passed away this morning at 7:15am at home surrounded by his loving family". He died at his home in Bloomfield Village, Michigan, having been hospitalised at the end of July after suffering a stroke.

On August 5 his longtime researcher, Gregg Sutter, told journalists: "He's doing better every day, and the family is guardedly optimistic. He's showing great spirit." Sutter added that Leonard had been "working very hard" on his 46th novel.

News of Leonard's death hit fellow writers hard yesterday. Scots author Ian Rankin tweeted: "Sad news. What a great writer", while S.E.Hinton tweeted: "Moment of silence for the great Elmore Leonard. Incredible story-teller, & King of Dialog . You will be missed."

Many of his works ended up being adopted for TV series or for the cinema: the notable films included Get Shorty (directed by Barry Sonnenfeld), Jackie Brown (Quentin Tarantino), Out of Sight (Steven Soderbergh) and 3:10 to Yuma, which was made not once but twice, the first time in 1957, the second time in 2007, when Russell Crowe and Christian Bale starred in James Mangold's updated version.

Poignantly, as recently as July 22, Leonard's official Twitter page, operated by Sutter, mourned the passing of actor Dennis Farina, whose own films had included Get Shorty and Out of Sight.

The current TV hit Justified, about a Kentucky federal marshal, Raylan Givens (played by Timothy Olyphant) grew out of a Leonard short story, Fire in the Hole. The TV series's success sent fans back to two earlier Leonard novels, in which Givens had featured. Leonard also penned a number of original screenplays, among them Joe Kidd, a 1972 hit for Clint Eastwood.

Several years ago Leonard revealed something of his approach to novel-writing when he published 10 Rules for Writing, a volume which will forever serve as a handbook for aspiring novelists. The frills-free advice - which, needless to say, Leonard himself always followed - included "try to leave out the parts that readers tend to skip", "keep your exclamation points under control" and '"avoid prologues".

Elmore Leonard was born in New Orleans, Louisiana. His father was an executive with the General Motors Corporation. Between 1927 and 1934 the family of four - Leonard had an older sister, Margaret - found themselves on the move, to Dallas, Oklahoma City and Memphis, before ending up in Detroit.

Leonard was just 10 when the first signs emerged of his interest in writing fiction- he wrote a play inspired by Erich Maria Remarque's book, All Quiet on the Western Front, which had recently been serialised in a Detroit newspaper. Also fresh in his mind was the 1935 film version.

According to Leonard's website, the young fifth-grader staged the play in his classroom, using desks to represent the barbed-wire of no man's land.

In 1943, aged 17, he graduated from the University of Detroit High School and tried to enlist in the Marines, but his poor eyesight caused him to be rejected. He subsequently joined the Seabees, the US Navy's fighting construction battalion, and served for some 18 months in the Admiralty Islands and the Philippines before returning home in January 1946.

Leonard served on board a ship before being discharged that June. He enrolled in the University of Detroit and majored in English and philosophy.

His intention was to work for his father at his car dealership in New Mexico, but this plan foundered on the death of Leonard snr. His son married Beverly Cline in 1949, and went on to work as an ad writer for the Campbell Ewald advertising agency.

He wrote Western stories on the side, selling them to pulp magazines and men's magazines: his key literary influence at this time was Ernest Hemingway.

In the 1950s he penned five western novels and 30 short stories, two of which were snapped up by Hollywood - The Tall T, and 3:10 to Yuma.

By 1961, Leonard was a full-time writer. he longed to write contemporary stories but the demands of raising a family meant that he had to undertake freelance advertising work instead.

Eventually, he sold a novel, Hombre, to Hollywood (the 1967 film version starred Paul Newman) and he finished his first non-Western, The Big Bounce, a tough crime novel.

In time, screenwriting allowed him the chance to follow his dream of becoming a full-time novelist. His many successful novels included Freaky Deaky, Killshot, Get Shorty (Martin Amis described this as a masterpiece), La Brava and Maximum Bob, and he was garlanded, too, with numerous accolades. In 1992 the Mystery Writers of America conferred on him its highest honour, the Grand Master Edgar. In 2009, his lifetime achievements were recognised by both the Western Writers of America and PEN USA.

Leonard was married three times. His marriage to Beverly Cline ended in divorce in 1977; his second wife, Joan Shephard, died in 1993; and his third marriage, to Christine Kent, ended last year.

He is survived by the five children by his marriage to Cline: Jane, Peter, Christopher, Bill and Katy, and by 12 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. In 2008, when Peter published his first novel, Quiver, father and son appeared together at bookstores and book festivals.

Russell Leadbetter

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