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Swag ()

In 1992 the Mystery Writers of America made Elmore Leonard a Grand Master; the award "is presented only to individuals who, by a lifetime of achievement, have proved themselves preeminent in the craft of the mystery and dedicated to the advancement of the genre."  Perhaps none of his novels better exemplifies why he won this honor than Ryan's Rules (which was later renamed Swag).

Frank Ryan is a mildly honest used car salesman, but he thinks he's come up with a surefire way to get rich quick.  So when Ernest Stickley, Jr. tries brazening his way out of the lot after Ryan catches him boosting a car, Frank decides to play dumb at the trial and Stick skips.  Ryan explains his plan:

    Stick...I'm talking about simple everyday armed robbery.  Supermarkets, bars, liquor stores, gas
    stations, that kind of place.  Statistics show--man, I'm not just saying it, the statistics
    show--armed robbery pays the most for the least amount of risk.  Now, you ready for this?  I see
    how two guys who know what they're doing and're businesslike about it,; who're frank with
    each other and earnest about their work, can pull down three to five grand a week.

And Frank doesn't just have a plan, he also has 10 rules for success and happiness, Ryan's Rules:

    1.  Always be polite on the job.  Say please and thank you.
    2.  Never say more than necessary.
    3.  Never call your partner by name--unless you use a made-up name.
    4.  Dress Well.  never look suspicious or like a bum.
    5.  Never use your own car. (Details to come.)
    6. Never count the take in the car.
    7.  Never flash money in a bar or with women.
    8. Never go back to an old bar or hangout once you have moved up.
    9.  Never tell anyone your business.  Never tell a junkie even your name.
    10. Never associate with people known to be in crime.

For a while, the two are able to follow the plan and the rules and they are extremely successful.  In one of the best bits in the book, they go into a bar and when someone else robs it, they rob the robber.  But, inevitably, the rules start falling by the wayside and when they see a chance for a big score, the rules go out the window, with predictably disastrous results.

Elmore Leonard novels can be like popcorn, you start consuming them by the handful, and there is a tendency to experience deja vu if you read too many too close together.  I also think he became too dialogue dependent in his middle years, after receiving near universal acknowledgment as the best writer of dialogue in the business.   But, perhaps because it was written relatively early in his career, Swag stands out as a great crime novel.  Leonard obviously liked it too; he brought Stick back in an eponymous novel, that's also pretty good.


Grade: (A)


See also:

Elmore Leonard (2 books reviewed)
Book-related and General Links:
    -Elmore Leonard Home (Random House)
    -FEATURED AUTHOR : Elmore Leonard (NY Times Book Review)
    -ESSAY : Easy on the Hopptedoodle (Elmore Leonard, NY Times)
    -REVIEW : of LINES AND SHADOWS By Joseph Wambaugh (Elmore Leonard, NY Times Book Review)
    -INTERVIEW: Elmore Leonard Cools Off (
    -INTERVIEW : Novels Are Nice, but Oh, to Be a Rock Star (1999, Fletcher Roberts, NY Times)
    -William Morrow: Elmore Leonard
    -Maximum Dutch: Unofficial Elmore Leonard Web Site
    -Dutch Treat: An Elmore Leonard Tribute
    -Home Arts: Elmore Leonard
    -Books Unbound Profile
    -Getting Elmore (metroActive Books)
    -ESSAY: ELMORE LEONARD'S ROGUES' GALLERY  (Ben Yagoda, NY Times Book Review)
    -ARCHIVES : "Elmore Leonard" (booksonline uk)
    -REVIEW : of Maximum Bob by Elmore Leonard (Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, NY Times)
    -REVIEW : of MAXIMUM BOB By Elmore Leonard (Barry Gifford, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Maximum Bob Novelist Elmore Leonard gives us maximum laughs, minimal effort (Liz Doup for The Miami Herald)
    -REVIEW : of Swag (Ryan's Rules) by Elmore Leonard (Newgate Callendar, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of STICK. By Elmore Leonard (Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, NY Times)
    -REVIEW : of STICK. By Elmore Leonard (George Stade, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of Get Shorty By Elmore Leonard  (CHRISTOPHER LEHMANN-HAUPT, NY Times)
    -REVIEW : of GET SHORTY By Elmore Leonard (Nora Ephron, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of BE COOL By Elmore Leonard  (Kinky Friedman, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of RUM PUNCH By Elmore Leonard (Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, NY Times)
    -REVIEW : of RUM PUNCH By Elmore Leonard (Ann Arensberg, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of Pagan Babies by Elmore Leonard (Frederick Zackel, January Magazine)
    -REVIEW : of Cuba Libre by Elmore  Leonard (Grey Gowrie, booksonline uk)

    -EPISODE GUIDE : Maximum Bob (Scott Klobas, epguides)
    -INFO : Maximum Bob (1998)(imdb)

    -FILMOGRAPHY : Elmore Leonard (Imdb)
    -INFO : Jackie Brown (1997) (novel Rum Punch) (imdb)
    -INFO : Get Shorty (1995) (imdb)
    -INFO : 52 Pick-Up (1986) (imdb)
    -INFO : Hombre (1967) (imdb)
    -From Hombre to Jackie Brown: at the movies with Elmore Leonard (Pure Fiction)

    -P.I.s, Dicks, and Mystery Men (Jesse Sublett, Weekly Wire)
    -REVIEW: Luc Sante: The Gentrification of Crime, NY Review of Books