Sex in Elmore Leonard, from soft focus to freaky deaky …

The sex and romance in Elmore Leonard books is usually pretty boring to be honest. It is there because there has to be a romance, like there has to be a fight.

He is not the king of crime writing for character or plot. Most of his stories are basically cowboy stories, like the ones he first wrote …

A good man with a gun takes on bad men with guns, wins and gets the girl. The guy dresses a little, although he is not rich enough to be really flash, because he is essentially honest. And the girl has a cute can.

Elmore’s hero would notice the can but would never dream of mentioning it first. Luckily, he is irresistible.

Elmore’s most convincing women are smart broads who are stuck with stupid men, because that is where the money is. His heroes end up with the one with clean knickers but they are tempted by the casino girls, the singers and the gangster’s molls, and sometimes succumb. In Elmore, adultery is ok if the other guy is a schmuck.

He used ladies with duff men for a lot of his best commentary.

In his 1985 novel Glitz, a gangster’s wife, Nancy Donovan, reminisces about her ex, a posh boy who posed as a financial adviser in the family bank … could have been a character from PG Wodehouse.

“Kip was a sweet guy. Loved ducks. All his neckties had little ducks on them. He was quite a nice-looking man. But not very bright.

“Liked dogs, too. Had a golden retriever named Lance. Every morning at breakfast Kip used to read market reports out loud. If Lance snarled it meant sell. If he woofed and wagged his tail, obviously it meant buy. Kip swore by Lance, even when he began to lose customers.”

Someone says: “You’re putting me on.”

Nancy says: “Kip was at the Merion Cricket Club (Pennsylvania) one afternoon, at the bar, of course, with his Beefeater martini. He was telling someone he’d just met about Lance. The man’s reaction was much the same as yours. Was Kip serious? Kip said to him, ‘I kid you not’. One of his favourite expressions. And fell over dead.”

It is an Elmore theme that the rich are usually even more stupid than street crooks, just luckier.

In 1983, when Elmore was 56, he published Stick, one of his big hits, fairly quickly made into a film by Burt Reynolds, starring – you guessed it, Burt Reynolds.

By this time, he was trying to loosen up a bit with the sex scenes.

There is a passage in which the hero, a savvy ex armed robber called Ernest Stickley, is using a pair of binoculars to size up the wife, aged about 30, of the bent banker who has hired him as a chauffeur. Stick is from Norman, Oklahoma. Elmore did some growing up round that way. There is something heartfelt about this bit …

“Stick held the glasses fixed on Mrs Stam and felt a stirring in his crotch. She didn’t have a Playboy body, perfect measurements; it wasn’t that. What her body did for him, it met requirements fixed in his mind a long time ago, a day of revelation: Back in Norman when he was ten and saw the full-grown woman friend of his mother naked one time, visiting, and had walked in their bathroom and saw that white skin and that thick patch of hair between her legs. Thinking thereafter that was the ticket when it came to a bare-naked woman, pleasure that would turn you inside out just to look at.”

Bit later in the same book, Elmore has a perfunctory go at a porno scene involving Diane Stam, although it is only jokey. The film might have made made something of it. Deanna Lund played the part.

Stick is passing through her house at midnight when he comes across his mate, Cornell, the black butler, playing slave to her queen.

He watches as Cornell kneels to pour her champagne and she says: “Arise slave, and as you offer the cup, say how you will delight me with rites of barbaric pleasure.”

Cornell says: “Yes, O Queen. What I am going to perform, up one royal side of you and down the other, in the dark and savage land where I come from, is called … the Freaky Deaky.”

Freaky Deaky is the name of a much later Elmore book, when its meaning is extra-freaky, far-out. But the cross-reference in both books is to a dance so explicitly sexual that it led to shootings.

Go back to the early 1980s and the start of Elmore’s awareness of the craze seems likely to have been a track called Freaky Deaky by a legendary funkster called Roy Ayers, on a 1978 album called Let’s Do It. There is a clip on YouTube of a dance to it by the regular dancers on a show called Soul Train, including members of the group Shalamar. Google Soul Train Freaky to get this …

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