William Morrow & Company, 2005, 320 pages
Carl Webster, the hot kid of the marshals service, is polite, respects his elders, and can shoot a man driving away in an Essex at four hundred yards. Carl works out of the Tulsa, Oklahoma, federal courthouse during the 1930s, the period of America's most notorious bank robbers: Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson -- those guys. Carl wants to be America's most famous lawman. He shot his first felon when he was fifteen years old. With a Winchester.
Louly Brown loves Carl but wants the world to think she is Pretty Boy Floyd's girlfriend.
Tony Antonelli of True Detective magazine wants to write like Richard Harding Davis and wishes cute little Elodie wasn't a whore. She and Heidi and the girls work at Teddy's in Kansas City, where anything goes and the girls wear -- what else -- teddies.
Jack Belmont wants to rob banks, become public enemy number one, and show his dad, an oil millionaire, he can make it on his own.
With tommy guns, hot cars, speakeasies, cops and robbers, and a former lawman who believes in vigilante justice, all played out against the flapper period of gun molls and Prohibition, "The Hot Kid" is Elmore Leonard -- a true master -- at his best.
Elmore Leonard is basically working within the American mythological framework here. Prohibition, gangsters, gun molls, US Marshals and bank robbers blazing away at each other with rifles, revolvers, and tommy guns. Oil and alcohol, 1930s cars, sex and bullets. Lots of fun if you like gangster movies or crime thrillers.
The characters are just two-dimensional, but they've got enough background and personality sketched in to make them interesting. Everything proceeds in linear fashion to the inevitable shootout between Carl Webster, the "hot kid" of the US Marshals Service, and Jack Belmont, would-be notorious bank robber who wants his name to be up there with Baby Face Nelson and Clyde Barrow.
At age 15, Carlos shoots his first man, witnesses his first murder, gets called a greaser, and is invited to become a lawman when he's old enough.
At age 15, Jack tries to murder his sister, blackmail his father, and blow up an oil refinery.
Carl and Jack are both the privileged sons of wealthy fathers, but whereas Carl is quietly competent and self-motivated, Jack is a spoiled psychopath. Carl wants to be worthy of his father's respect (which he already has), Jack wants to make his father respect him.
A number of other men and women weave their way through the build-up to the final confrontation between the two men. There is plenty of suspense despite the predictable nature of the plot, and Leonard's writing is tight and visceral.
Have you read The Hot Kid?
Have you read any other books by Elmore Leonard?
Verdict: This is not high art, but it's a page turner. The Hot Kid is a book-length duel between a US Marshal and a bank robber, both of them interesting if not terribly complex men, set in a 1930s that is convincingly described if a little too seedy/glamorous to be real. Famous historical figures interact with fictional ones, the sex and violence quota is amply maintained, and for all that it's nothing more than a piece of popular genre fiction, it's well-written.
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