“Are those explosives?” Surprised.

“Claymore mines. All wired and ready to go.”

“You have them at your house?”

“not officially,” David said. “This one boy, Willard, keeps some in his closet. I think he’s a little crazy.” They were silent and he didn’t add until some moments later, “But I’m glad he’s on our side.”

Hollywood loves Elmore Leonard. After Get Shorty, Jackie Brown and Out of Sight, how could they not (let’s not speak of Be Cool). He writes in a punchy, breezy manner about criminals and culture clashes, all the while spurring on the plot to a racing pace. I was worried he was another James Ellroy, someone whose writing lends itself to adaptation as opposed to the cruel wide open plains of the printed page. Thankfully I was wrong on that score.

Al Rosen is a man who enjoys the finer things in life. He measures his pleasures in hotel suites, Israeli wine and of course women. Especially American tourists on package tours. Them he sizes up by the hotel they are staying in, whether they are divorced, or widowed (he prefers a middle-aged lady over a preening teen). He can be charming, even a little mysterious when he wants to be and lies easily about his age. His life in Israel is going swimmingly, until he spends the night with Edie Broder in her hotel room. Smelling smoke, he peers out the door of the room and discovers the building is on fire. Managing to rouse the other guests, this heroic act is mentioned in the press that follows, but Rosen does not come forward to take the credit. In fact the photo that accompanies the story all the way back to the States shows a shocked Rosen starring at the camera in dismay at his photo being taken. He knows what’s coming next. There are people back in Detroit who want a word with Al Rosen, formerly known as Jim Ross. What’s worse, Rosen takes off forgetting that he shoved his passport and jacket into Edie’s suitcase before they fled the bedroom. So now he’s stuck in Israel with the mob on their way.

Fortunately for Rosen he crosses paths with a Kentucky-born Vietnam vet named Davis. Employed by Rosen’s lawyer to be a bagman, the marine takes an interest in the harried American expatriate and offers to help him escape. The guys from Detroit include the man he tried to indict, a explosives expert and Rashad an ‘Alabama Arabian’. It is the latter, hired as a hitman by Rosen’s old enemy Valenzuela, whose botched attempt on the American’s life lets him know the mob has arrived in Israel. Davis takes him on the road trying to evade capture and failing that, show these contract killers how a military man takes a life.

Leonard sets the story up as a conventional thriller. We have a man on the run, we have criminals and crooked lawyers circling like vultures and we have a noble soldier with a heart of gold. What makes this story stand out is the quick banter and the fascinating use of location. By setting the story in Israel, we have a contrast between the American mobsters, with their punching the clock attitude to murder and those who have come to see the Middle East as a constant battlefield, somehow normalised through the continuous conflict.

There’s also lots of trademark Elmore Leonard banter and humour on hand to lighten the mood. My favourite scene is a great inversion of the Stockholm syndrome cliché, with a young Yemenite kidnapped by Rashad quickly bonding with him over their shared hatred of ‘the Man’. Also I love the phrase Alabama Arabian. It reminds me of that great Blues Brothers quote – ‘Illinois Nazis’. Rashad is perplexed by his treatment at the hands of Israeli police and customs agents. He cannot understand why having a Muslim name is a problem in this country. There something absurd about his claiming to be a Muslim, making a living as a contract killer and being completed bemused about the religious conflict in the Middle East.

Fast, snappy and thrilling. This is a great little read.

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