Early on in Cat Chaser, I realized that the 1982 novel just didn’t have Elmore Leonard’s usual pizzazz and punch.
For one thing, George Moran, a rundown motel owner-operator and the former husband of a rich Florida woman, and Mary Delaney, the still-married wife of a rich Florida businessman who used to head the death squads in the Dominican Republic, become lovers early on.
Leonard explains that the two former Detroiters had spent two years eying each other across party rooms in the wealthy circles of south Florida, but all that yearning and eye-balling occurred before the novel starts and, by page 60, during a blackout in a Dominican hotel, they’ve fallen into bed for their first and, truth be told, very satisfying sex. It wouldn’t be the last.
So, there’s no real tension about when they’re going to do it, but there is tension about whether they’ll be able to keep doing it. They have to sneak around to a Holiday Inn where more than a few low-lifes recognize them and attempt to get something from them.
Often, in an Elmore Leonard novel, the low-lifes are pretty interesting, some because they’re not just quirky but also, well, sociopaths. But the low-lifes hanging around Moran and Mary aren’t all that eccentric, and they certainly don’t seem sociopathic.
Nolan Tyner is an actor who’s branching into minor investigative — or is it criminal? — activity. Yes, he does eventually get in the really deep water, but he’s such a drunk that there isn’t much room for interesting quirks.
Rafael Amado, called Rafi, is a Dominican pimp with big dreams who follows Moran and Mary back to Florida, and he too gets in over his head. He’s more sadly incompetent and stupidly ambitious than quirky.
Jiggs Scully is a mobbed-up slob who talks up his connections and does turn out to be a sociopath. As does Mary’s husband Andres de Boya. But that’s after page 200 in a 283-page novel, and the story’s been dragging for a while by then.
Yet, even Scully’s and de Boya’s sociopathology is pretty run of the mill. They’re just another couple bad guys doing bad guy stuff.
“Under that cold, formal exterior”
And the snappy dialogue that regular readers of Leonard expect goes missing for the most part in Cat Chaser.
A rare exception is when Mary is telling Moran about how she came to marry de Boya. He was a client of the lawyer she worked for, and he was divorced and told her he’d gotten rid of his mistresses:
“And I decided he was fascinating. I thought the difference between us might make it all the more interesting, maybe even fun. I thought, well, assuming there’s a person under that cold, formal exterior, why don’t I try to bring him out?”
“How’d you do?”
“Well, the only thing I can figure out, he puts on the front so no one will know what a real asshole he is.”
Patrick T. Reardon