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Book review: “Glitz” by Elmore Leonard

Toward the end of Elmore Leonard’s 1985 crime novel Glitz, Miami Police Lt. Vincent Mora, rehabbing after being shot in a mugging while carrying groceries, is in a comp-ed suite at the Atlantic City hotel-casino Spade’s Boardwalk.

Nancy Donovan, the savvy, shark-y co-owner of Spade’s, has arrived to make amends for a fairly clumsy effort at seduction and to take a second run at Vincent for whom she obviously has the hots. And then….

“God,” LaDonna said, coming out of the bedroom, her white legs coming out of a shorty robe Vincent didn’t recognize, “how long did I sleep?”  The robe, or beach cover, would have to be Linda’s.  He glanced at Nancy, sitting up to look over the back of the sofa, turned away from him.

LaDonna said, “Oh, hi.  Can somebody tell me what time it is.”  The sleepy girl stretching now, reaching out, the cotton robe rising on her milky thighs.

“Two forty-five,” Nancy said.  “I think it’s time for me to go.”

The scene is pure Leonard.  It has nothing to do with the several plots of Glitz and yet everything to do with the joy of reading Elmore Leonard.

Several plots

The several plots involve such questions as:

  • Who threw the beautiful, sexy and sweet Puerto Rican girl Iris Ruiz off the 18th story balcony of an Atlantic City building?
  • Will cops lock up Teddy, “Mr. Magic,” for a series of murders including a cab driver and a 60-year-old woman from Harrisburg in town for a casino afternoon?
  • Will Nancy and her dopey husband Tommy get tainted by mob ties because of their manager Jackie Garbo (whadda great Elmore Leonard name!)?
  • What is going on with the secret off-site gambling nights arranged for a rich Columbian drug lord who, Nancy has discovered, is laundering cash through Spade’s?
  • What will Ricky Catalina — also known as Ricky the Zit and Ricky the Sickie — do after Vincent pretended to be a mob hitman after him?
  • How will Vincent deal with the $12,000 in strongarm payments he confiscated, as a private citizen, from Ricky?
  • Would Teddy eventually find the time and place to finally carry out his plan to kill Vincent for arresting him for rape seven years earlier and sending him to prison?

“Seeds of distrust”

When it comes to plots, Glitz is quite convoluted, anything but tight and clean.  In fact, the plotlines cross and recross throughout the novel.

One particular mob guy, Frankie the Ching — also known as Frankie the Wheel — worried that Iris’s death will have a negative effect on profits, is aggravated and wants to find out who did it.  The cops, of course, are looking to answer that, and so is Vincent, still on disability.

Vincent met Iris when he was recuperating in Puerto Rico and liked her although he wasn’t the sugar daddy she wanted him to be.  Now, in his phlegmatic way, he’s able, as a temporary private citizen, to do some stuff that, as a cop, he wouldn’t be able to do.  Such as cause some trouble for some bad guys.

“Wonderful things can happen,” Vincent said, “when you plant seeds of distrust in a garden of assholes.”

“Because he wasn’t dead”

And it’s not as if the bad guys in Glitz are all that smart. 

Just ask DeLeon Johnson, the former Miami Dolphin defensive end who, because of a coke addiction, ended up doing six months in prison.  Now, he’s the chauffer and bodyguard of Jackie Garbo, sitting in on many of Jackie’s more professional conversations, such as his meeting with the Ching about Iris’s death.

Jackie is doing a verbal tap dance to avoid being linked to Iris, but the Ching isn’t listening.  He’s telling, as if a voice from the mountain.  And DeLeon isn’t impressed.

Ignorant man, DeLeon thought, believed he was wise because he wasn’t dead.  Man, there are some fools in the crime business.  But mean motherfuckers.  Some of ‘em could make good ballplayers.

Quintessential Leonard

That’s quintessential Leonard, seeing mobsters — some of them — as being so mean they’d make good football players.

So is that scene in Vincent’s suite at Spade’s. 

Again, it really has nothing to do with pushing any of the plots along, but it’s this wonderfully funny moment when the super-smart, super-talented Nancy, on the prowl for a boy-toy, gets her comeuppance.

LaDonna, a former Miss America contestant from Oklahoma, is Jackie Garbo’s girlfriend, in a manner of speaking.  She’s ended up in one of the suite’s bedrooms not because she’s romantically involved with Vincent but because DeLeon has brought her there.  She was all shaken up by nearly witnessing a mob murder and eventually drank so much that she just went to sleep.

“All of her systems”

Nancy, of course, gets the wrong idea. 

Which isn’t exactly the wrong idea since Vincent does have someone — Linda Moon, the lounge pianist who was a friend to Iris — much closer in his affections than Nancy is. 

But, then, as Nancy stands to leave the suite, acting indifferent, her wrong idea gets corrected.  And her indifference can’t last.

Not with Linda, coming out of the bathroom now doing a funky drag step nude, with subtle hip moves, doing things with a towel as part of the vocal number, a rendition of “Automatic” in the Pointer Sisters’ style, a low gutty voice telling them all of her systems were down down down…

Till she saw her audience.

Vincent was proud of her, the way she did a turn without missing a beat, wrapped the towel around her, even tucking the end in, said, “Well, what do you think?” and threw her arms out to strike a pose.  “This, or the banana outfit?”

Patrick T. Reardon

12.21.21

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