Book Review: Be Cool by Elmore Leonard

• Be Cool
• by Elmore Leonard
• Publisher – Dark Alley
• Copyright – 1999
• 275 pages

Rating – 5.5/10

Review – Elmore Leonard “sends up” the entertainment industry again in Be Cool. In the finest Hollywood tradition, Be Cool is a sequel to Leonard’s successful novel, Get Shorty. As with Get Shorty, Hollywood adapted Be Cool into a movie (in 2005).

The Return of Chili

Even if the book didn’t have a blurb on the back cover, fans would recognize that Be Cool was a sequel right away. Once again, the spotlight is on Leonard’s Miami-loan-shark-turned-Hollywood-insider Chili Palmer. For those who missed Get Shorty, Chili is a “stock” Leonard character – an ever-cool, hustler with a gift of gab. At the beginning of Be Cool, Chili’s star has risen and fallen in Hollywood as his latest film flopped.

In Be Cool circumstance thrusts Chili into the music industry, which – if anything – proves to be even shallower and meaner than was the film industry. Chili falls in with a band of wanna-be rock stars named Odessa and tries to help their career. At the same time, he’s dodging some violent, low-life criminals who are tracking him with some bad intentions.

Pretty Good Leonard

There’s nothing wrong with Be Cool, but there’s nothing great about it, either. It’s fine piece of fluff, easy reading about not-too-bright characters playing for high stakes. Be Cool would make some nice, lightweight beach reading if you wanted simple escapism.

But Leonard has written much-better books. While Be Cool has some of Leonard’s trademark, snappy dialogue, there aren’t many great lines or passages. Those who read Get Shorty have already experienced Chili’s cool-guy rap, so his lines in Be Cool just don’t have the same punch. (Chili’s love interest, Elaine, has some witty, tongue-in-cheek lines: “Tell you the truth… I’m smoking more now since I quit” p. 232).

The plot is only mediocre. Leonard’s characters have always seemed more interesting than his plots, and Be Cool doesn’t make the reader care about what happens. Be Cool also suffers from one of Leonard’s persistent weakness – the tendency to shift abruptly from laid-back, semi-comedic storylines to graphic violence. The effect is jarring and – while I like Leonard’s writing – he has a cavalier disregard for horrible, violent death. For instance, in Be Cool one character begins wearing a little black dress as an ironic statement after her husband is murdered by a hit man who shot him in the head outside a restaurant.

A final quibble is that Be Cool seems like, slick “Hollywood” version of Leonard. One touch that I particularly disliked was Leonard plotting to his characters “hang out” with real-life celebrities (such as Aerosmith). It reminded me of TV’s The Simpsons continually using celebrity guest stars to inject life into the show. Also, over the years, many of Leonard’s characters became increasingly cartoonish. For instance, Be Cool features a gay, 6-foot-5, part-Samoan, part-African American killer and aspiring entertainer. You get the idea.

Whatever Leonard’s motives, Be Cool is a far cry from Leonard’s gritty tales of low-life nobodies stuck in dead-end cities. (For some terrific Leonard, try 1976’s Swag, which is set in Detroit).

Summary

Be Cool is a fine, lightweight novel. While it doesn’t have any fatal flaws, it’s well below Leonard’s best and that keeps me from giving it more than a lukewarm review.

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About mobilemojoman

I have been a Mobile resident for about a decade. Working as a college professor keeps me off the streets and pays the bills. I am married to a woman (the MojoWoman) who is a much better person than I am and we have two beautiful girls who keep us both jumping. My interests are varied - food & drink, sports, politics, exercise, books, travel, Mardi Gras, and all of life's rich pageant. In the future, I'd like to learn more about sailing, photography, Cajun/Creole cooking, making beer and wine, and writing.
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