There are several running gags that Elmore Leonard has woven through his 2004 novel Mr. Paradise, one of them having to do with the dismemberment of the body of one of three shooting victims in the basement of a pot-dealer’s home.

Homicide Detective Richard Harris is reporting to his boss Acting Lt. Frank Delsa that the three had been stripped and shot in the back of the head:

But one of ‘em had a chain saw taken to him, the chain saw still in the basement, scorched but brand-new, the box sitting there. The tech says there’s human tissue in the teeth of the saw.  No shit.  Cut a man into five pieces, I imagine so. But why didn’t they finish the job, do the other two?”

Delsa said, “Would you want to?  You’re covered with the guy’s blood?  I think after doing the one somebody said fuck it.”

Throughout Mr. Paradise, this severed body is mentioned several times, and its five pieces.

“Do you thank God…”

Another running gag has to do with a comment that Homicide Detective Jackie Michaels makes to Delsa when investigating a murder that involves a trail of blood that leads back up the stairs to the apartment where, bloody himself, the killer sits:

“Do you thank God like I do they’re stupid?  Or stoned or lazy or generally fucked up?”

She’s speaking of criminals.  And she’s not alone in her opinion.

A slimy attorney

For instance, a slimy attorney named Avern Cohn.

He is sitting in a tavern talking with Carl Fortuna and Art Krupa, the team of contract killers who carry out the contracts that Avern arranges for them.  I said he was slimy. The three are discussing some unexpected wrinkles that complicated the hit they put on high-powered defense attorney Anthony Paradiso Sr. — the 84-year-old Mr. Paradise of the book’s title — the night before. 

The client for the hit was Montez Taylor, a gangbanger who, for the past decade, has been working as the toadying go-fer/pimp/administrative assistant — “my walking around guy” — for Mr. Paradise with the expectation of getting his boss’s house when his boss shuffled off this mortal stage. 

However, Mr. Paradise, more than a little crotchety in his old age, recently decided to give the house instead to his granddaughter Allegra whose husband has made a lot of money dealing in bull semen.  So Montez decided to give Mr. Paradise an early departure.

“Dumbest Criminals I Have Ever Known”

Like many an Elmore Leonard character, Avern is prone to going off on conversational tangents, and he tells the two middle-aged, blue-collarish killers about how he used to represent Lloyd Williams, the seventy-one-year-old houseman of Mr. Paradise.

Now, when they run into each other, they have a drink and tell stories:

“We try to top each other on the dumbest criminals we’ve known.”

Stories about dumb criminals pop up here and there in the novel until, toward the end, Lloyd is standing in the kitchen of Mr. Paradise’s house — the crime scene of his murder several days earlier — with Three-J (Jerome Juwan Jackson), a twenty-year-old would-be police snitch.  Also in the kitchen, at a round table by the windows, are Montez and the hitmen he owes $50,000 for the hit, Art and Carl.

Jerome turned from washing his hands at the sink and started making ugly sandwiches with the meat handing out.  Lloyd said, “Here,” and took over the job.  He said to Jerome, aside, “Listen to some of the Dumbest Criminals I Have Ever Known, and learn something.”

“It’s what you do”

Eventually, in that kitchen at that table — in the crime-scene house, remember — are the killers and their client Montez and Avern, their attorney, while, standing around, are Lloyd, Acting Lt. Frank Delsa and a beautiful Victoria’s Secret catalogue model named Kelly Barr.

Still another thread through the book is the flirtation between Delsa and Kelly that starts just about from the moment the cop sees her at Mr. Paradise’s house after Carl and Art have done their deed.

Kelly was there because she’s a close friend and the roommate of Chloe Robinette, a high-priced call-girl whose fee rose to $900 an hour after she appeared in Playboy.  That was before Mr. Paradise put her on a $5,000-a-month retainer to entertain him, often in a cheerleader costume, when he felt like entertainment.

She brought Kelly along as a second cheerleader even though Kelly explained that she could only have sex with someone if she were in love. 

After greeting Mr. Paradise, the two were in the bathroom, and Kelly was kidding Chloe about stuff she had to say, such as “And you’re our Mr. Paradise.”  So Chloe explained with simple directness:

“It’s what you do, you’re a mistress.”

Alternately emboldened and flummoxed

If all of the above gives you the idea that Mr. Paradise is a tad bit complicated, you’re on the right track.

This is a novel of characters — good guys and bad guys — who get caught up in a complex set of circumstances and actions that alternately embolden and flummox them.  The enjoyment of reading the book is the pleasure of watching them scurry around for safety or wander unaware heedless of the hammer about to come down.

Mr. Paradise isn’t one of those mysteries with devious, clever bad guys and their brilliantly executed crimes, not one of those with an investigator who provides the solution to the mystery in the final pages.

No mystery except…

In fact, there is no mystery in Mr. Paradise except if and when the Dumbest Criminals Lloyd Has Ever Known are going to get their comeuppance.  And also whether Delsa and Kelly are going to end up in bed.

Oh, and that mystery about the cut-up body. 

It wasn’t five pieces, as Jerome (Three-J) explains at one point to Kelly.

Kelly said, “Six?” Jerome said the arms and the legs were four, the head five and the body was six.

He said people forgot to count the body.

Patrick T. Reardon


Written by : Patrick T. Reardon

For more than three decades Patrick T. Reardon was an urban affairs writer, a feature writer, a columnist, and an editor for the Chicago Tribune. In 2000 he was one of a team of 50 staff members who won a Pulitzer Prize for explanatory reporting. Now a freelance writer and poet, he has contributed chapters to several books and is the author of Faith Stripped to Its Essence. His website is

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