Fast-Paced And Fun…But Is It A Novel?

snakes

A few days have passed since I finished Brian DePalma and Susan Lehman’s Are Snakes Necessary?  (Hard Case Crime, 2020), but I’m still trying to decide if I enjoyed it or (if this is possible) actually hated it. Since I blew through the book in a couple evenings, I’ll have to concede that it was a fast and fun read. But that concession doesn’t mean there wasn’t something about this novel that still bothers me.

Not really a mystery and only fitting ‘crime fiction’ if you set very broad genre parameters, Are Snakes Necessary? is a somewhat neo-noirish thriller of sorts, rolling out a seemingly unrelated cast of largely unsavory characters whose stories will intertwine through a series of sometimes logical and sometimes implausible coincidences. A sleazy political consultant hires a desperate fast food worker to set up an incumbent Senator with photos of a hotel room tryst. A failed photojournalist hooks up with a Las Vegas casino maven’s trophy wife. A flight attendant is horrified to learn her ambitious daughter has not only dropped out of college to join a political campaign but is joining the candidate (her own one-time lover) in bed as well. Throw in a retiring advice columnist, the Senator’s dying spouse and an abused Philadelphia housewife, and still everything will manage to come full circle as these characters’ stories converge in the novel’s closing mini-chapters, with multiple people dying (not always the ones who deserve it), some in Hitchcock-homage fashion (no surprise there, with DePalma at work).

In describing his writing style, Elmore Leonard famously said “I try to leave out the parts that readers tend to skip”. Apparently, DePalma and Lehman took this advice seriously, but maybe a bit too much, and that’s what troubled me about Are Snakes Necessary? Oh, it’s an entertaining ‘page turner’. But is it really a novel? Frankly, I’m not sure.

The fact is, the book reads more like a story treatment, elaborate synopsis or an unproduced DePalma screenplay fleshed out into book form by Lehman. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, only that I’m pretty sure that if an unknown submitted this to an agent or editor, they’d be told to come back once they’d actually written the novel.

All that said, don’t be turned off by my own mixed feelings. The Hard Case Crime series rarely has a miss, even if it occasionally strays from its original mission of publishing long forgotten mysteries and hard-boiled crime fiction from the postwar paperback originals heyday and seems all too ready to go to press when there’s a well-known name with some marquee value to put on the cover (an understandable business decision). So, if you’d like a quick, entertaining read peopled by mostly unpleasant but-no-less intriguing characters, Are Snakes Necessary? will definitely keep you occupied for an evening or two. Arrange a curbside pickup from your local indie like I did, and see what you think. Is it a fast-paced plot-driven novel thoroughly purged of indulgent writerly fluff? Or is it an old screenplay dusted off by DePalma and finessed into something like a novel by Lehman?

Either way, it still is a fun read.

The Rules.

The Rules

If you stop by here at The Stiletto Gumshoe, there’s no way you’d be unfamiliar with Elmore Leonard. There’s a good chance you’ve liked his work. I know I do. A lot. Enough, in fact, to have multiple editions of some of his novels. I may be notoriously acquisitive, but I’m no collector. Nonetheless, I just couldn’t pass some up, figuring I could use redundant copies for re-reads, which certain Leonard novels are bound to get. Case in point: I read (and still have) my hardcover of Up In Honey’s Room, but how could I pass up the saucy little paperback edition that’s tucked right beside it on my bookshelves?

Up In Honey's Room

Up In Honey's Room 2

Born in New Orleans in 1925, raised mostly in Detroit, Elmore Leonard did three years in the Navy Seabees during WWII, went to college after the war and worked as an ad agency copywriter for several years, even once he’d begun writing. Originally penning westerns – Hombre, 3:10 To Yuma, Joe Kidd being some of the better known titles, he later moved to crime fiction and thrillers. Get Shorty, Be Cool, 52 Pickup, Mr. Majestyk and Out Of Sight are just a few better known novels and among Leonard’s stories and books that have been adapted to films. He passed away in 2013, following complications from a stroke that he looked to be recovering from. No surprise, his books have sold tens of millions of copies.

Elmore Leonard’s style was distinctive from the start but became even more so after he began writing crime and thrillers. The prose is spare, straightforward and unadorned, textbook examples of a highly skilled writer employing less words but only the absolute right words. Elmore Leonard’s “The Rules” are seen often, memorized by some writers, no doubt, and were the basis for what became his Elmore Leonard’s Ten Rules For Writing.

Stop over at Crime Reads (link below) for an intriguing and deeper look at Elmore Leonard’s “Rules” from a 1998 conversation with Martin Amis. For the writers among you (this being “A Writer’s Blog That’s Not”), Leonard’s “The Rules” are shown yet again above. They’re kind of like the Ten Commandments, and I for one, strive to adhere to them. This past Friday would’ve been Elmore Leonard’s 94thbirthday. We can’t be overly saddened when a person gets 80++ good years, but we certainly can still mourn the loss, and think about the words left unwritten.

https://crimereads.com/celebrating-elmore-leonards-rules-for-writing/

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