Typical Elmore in many ways, is Killshot. Stupid, deadly, comic villains. Characters caught in the middle because of their own weakness or venality. Superb dialogue. Excellent scenery. But there’s something different, too. This is as much about the relationship between protagonist Wayne and his wife, Carmen. They’re working class folks living a middling prosperous life in a fairly successful marriage. Carmen has spunk and imagination and ambition. Wayne’s a good provider, but not long on imagination, ambition, or communication. Their most serious problem.
Unlike most of Leonard’s plots, these two get pulled into the story through absolutely no fault of their own. Zip responsibility for their predicament. But they still have to deal with the fact that killers are after them, that the cops and FBI that lure them into witness protection range from dumb to corrupt.
Leonard tends to cover much of his menacing atmosphere with humor, and Killshot is no exception to that tendency. In one scene, Richie Nix shoots up a convenience store trying to kill Wayne, fails, then turns to the 17-year-old girl behind the counter. Her hair is greasy. Her grooming somehow offends him. “Are you Indian?” he says. “No.” “Are you sure?” he says. “you look Indian.” “No,” she says. “It doesn’t matter,” he says. And he pulls the trigger. See what I mean about deadly and stupid?
In the end, the real hero of this novel is Carmen. No doubt about that. But, as always, she doesn’t get the credit. No doubt about that, either. Wry and sad. But she’s strong and we love her, and if there’s anything she knows how to do, it’s survive.