Get Shorty review for the Library Corner.

Get Shorty by Elmore Leonard reviewed by Charles HarrisWe all love a good little-fish-in-a-big-pond story, when the little guy from out of town has to survive among the city-slickers. But we love it even more when the little guy turns out to be a better slicker than the city-slickers.

The Australian movie Crocodile Dundee broke out worldwide with its story of a rough-and-ready bushman from the outback who runs rings round the street thugs of New York.

While back in 1939, mild-mannered James Stewart faced up to the complacent crooks who ran the fictional town of Bottleneck in Destry Rides Again. Turning it into a comedy western classic.

In Elmore Leonard’s satirical thriller novel Get Shorty, Chili Palmer, an ex-collector for a Miami loan-shark, goes to Hollywood to track down money owed to a casino by a B-movie horror producer and ends up pitching stories from his life.

Get Shorty – the art of gritty simplicity

The joke of the book is that his life on the streets has made him better at pitching, finessing star egos and facing down rivals than the professionals.

As such, it is reminiscent of (and must have influenced) Woody Allen’s underrated gangster comedy Bullets Over Broadway – where a gangster proves to be better at writing and directing than the writer-director of the play he’s involved with.

Leonard began by writing westerns himself, but his favoured genre rapidly became crime. His gritty, realistic, spare style has been much admired. Not least by Leonard himself who famously immortalised his Ten Rules of Writing in an essay for the New York Times.

Elmore Leonard

Elmore Leonard

His commands included cutting out all adjectives and adverbs. He also rewrites anything that “sounds like writing.” Top advice – but Leonard makes the style look easier than it is.

The art behind his simplicity lies in his ability to create credible, rounded characters. The crooks are recognisable yet real. The women may not figure so much as the men, but have their own lives.

Much of this comes from Leonard’s impeccable ear for entertaining and believable dialogue. It’s no surprise that Hollywood itself snapped up the book for a movie and TV series. As it did a large number of his other forty-four novels and numerous short stories.

Savvy and brave

The novel could have been a one-joke story but it is much more entertaining than that. Leonard packs the story with sharply observed, brilliantly sketched comic characters.

John Travolta as Chili Palmer in Get Shorty

John Travolta as Chili Palmer

There’s the horror producer himself, Harry Zimm – desperate to be taken seriously and unable to shut his mouth. Even when Chili tries to stop him, knowing that Zimm will talk himself into trouble.

There’s middle-aged but still sexy horror-starlet Karen Flores, still proud of having one of the best screams in the business.

There’s the wonderfully self-opinionated superstar, who treats the world as if it revolves around him. Which to some extent it does.

And of course there’s Chili Palmer himself – funny, savvy and brave. With a host of nasty thugs who are determined to ruin his life, one way or another. All tied together by a plot full of pizzazz.


Get Shorty – novel USA UK

Elmore Leonard’s Ten Rules of Writing