Book Nook: City Primeval, by Elmore Leonard

I admittedly do not read much in the way of crime novels. I have two favorites, but that is mostly thanks to circling back after their work in television–George Pelecanos and Elmore Leonard. Pelecanos work I was familiar with through The Wire and Treme. Leonard was Justified.

Of Leonard’s work, I have read The Moonshine Wars, Raylan and, now, City Primeval: High Noon in Detroit.

I saw an interview where they talked about The Friends of Eddie Coyle being Leonard’s favorite book, so I read that one a year or two back. And in City Primeval, you can see the influence George T. Higgins had on Leonard’s storytelling style early on. City Primeval was his sixth book, published back in 1980. Givens was not introduced until 13 years later in Pronto, but the similarities between what we would eventually see on TV centered around that character are evident in this Detroit-based novel.

It mostly centers around five main characters–the “Oklahoma Wildman” Clement Mansell; Raymond Cruz, the detective on the chase; Sandy Stanton, Clement’s girlfriend; Carolyn Wilder, Clement’s lawyer; and just for fun, Skender Lulgjaraj, an Albanian thrown into the mix to spice things up.

City Primeval excels at what Leonard would become famous for–put a bad guy and an old-school good guy in the same area and let them volley witty banter. You know it will all eventually lead to a showdown at the end (the subtag is “High Noon in Detroit” afterall), but you enjoy the ride along the way even when you are pretty sure you know the end.

Mix in a half-nod to Poe at the end just to add some moral intrigue, and this is exactly what you want a Leonard book to be, even with the hindsight of 40-plus years later.

I will probably always have a Leonard book in my TBR list for the next century or so. City Primeval is being adapted to television now, with the Justified world. I have no idea how it will compare to the original. I can already see the “Cruz is no Givens” comments in my head, because of the way Timothy Olyphant nailed that character, but I am 100 percent on board with building a Leonard-verse and tying all of this together.


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