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52 Pickup by Elmore Leonard

52 Pickup (original 1974; edition 2002)

by Elmore Leonard

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4671022,172 (3.52)24
Title:52 Pickup
Authors:Elmore Leonard
Info:HarperTorch (2002), Mass Market Paperback, 352 pages
Collections:Your library

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52 Pick-Up by Elmore Leonard (1974)



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There's a line between stupid but believable behavior and behavior that just doesn't add up. A guy who should be getting out of town as fast as possible takes a nap before leaving, that to me is stupid but believable, it's an action that you would expect from one of those characters that can't help but sabotage themselves (you may well know someone in your life who would shoot themselves in the foot like that). The nap is a bad choice, but the character's overall motivation and plan of action makes sense. On the other hand, behavior becomes unbelievable to me when the underling motivation doesn't make sense, or when actions are at odds with a character's underlying motivation. Elmore Leonard intended to populate 52 Pickup with characters acting stupidly but believably, but unfortunately the work includes a mix of the believably stupid and the purely unbelievable.

52 Pickup is the story of a group of criminals who try to blackmail a wealthy man named Harry Mitchell, who it turns out isn't just going to just roll over. Mitchell pushes back, and matches wits with the fragmenting group of criminals. The battle of wits is less than satisfying, however, because of certain actions being unbelievable instead of just stupid. Giving a gun back to a crook who has just been caught breaking into your house and who you've just told that a) one of his partners in crime is trying to cheat him, and b) you've just taken pictures of him as evidence is one of those actions that skirts the line between being stupid and being unbelievable. It makes a tiny sliver of sense that you would give him the gun back in hopes that he will kill one of his partners in crime, despite the immediate risk to yourself. What falls solidly into the category of "unbelievable" is when you put up with this break-in and essentially do nothing about it, leave your wife who you love alone and unprotected in this house that has now been broken into by criminals on multiple occasions, at a time when you and your wife have analyzed the situation and figured out that there's almost certainly no way the blackmail material holds any weight against you, and you still do nothing even when you confirm with one of the criminals the next day that the blackmailers have nothing on you anymore. My main gripe about this book is that after he tells his wife about the affair, Mitchell's motivation to cooperate with and pay the criminals stopped making any sense to me. The criminals substitute the blackmail of an affair with the blackmail of framing him for murder in an escalation of their crimes that comes out of nowhere, and that relies on the narrative convenience of the criminals finding Mitchell's gun and the wife not calling the cops even though she knows she should. At this point, however, how would this blackmail possibly work? Three guys with criminal records walk into a police station and say that a prominent businessman has committed murder, their only proof being a tape they clearly made to blackmail him? Best case scenario the criminals risk going to jail for blackmail, worst case the police figure out that the three criminals are the more likely perpetrators, either way the criminals have just as much motivation to keep their mouths shut as Mitchell does. Mitchell is depicted in the book as being smart and level-headed enough to figure this out, but doesn't until his wife spells it out for him, at which point the information doesn't change his behavior at all. Basically, in the time between Mitchell coming clean about the affair and his wife being kidnapped he has no motivation that makes sense, and therefore the actions he takes in that space of time don't make sense either. There's a largely pointless and uninteresting subplot about Mitchell running his business and dealing with a union representative, and the ending is ambiguous as to how everything works out in a way that feels equally as though Elmore Leonard didn't actually care and thought that writing it out would be boring. There weren't any stand-out scenes, the writing was serviceable but bland, and the characters had no depth and had at most a single quality each.

Having recently read The Friends of Eddie Coyle by George V. Higgins I have to say that it's a better crime novel. The writing is faster-paced and better at creating tension, Higgins is better at establishing differences between characters (with dialogue that actually reads differently), and the actions of the characters consistently makes sense. If you want to try out the Crime Fiction genre, or if you are a fan of the genre and haven't read either, The Friends of Eddie Coyle is more worth your time than 52 Pickup. ( )
  BayardUS | Jan 10, 2016 |
Somewhat dated but decent genre writing. ( )
  Gimley_Farb | Jul 6, 2015 |
Successful businessman Harry Mitchell is having an affair this leads to blackmail.
Harry wont pay he decides to get even his own way.
Clever little easy to read book. ( )
  Daftboy1 | Nov 23, 2014 |

Detroit businessman Harry Mitchell is a self-made man, happily married for over twenty-two years and a pillar of the community. But then he slips - he meets a young 'model' and begins an affair. One night he arrives at his girlfriend's apartment and finds more than he bargained for. Two masked men have caught his misdemeanours on camera and now they want a cool hundred grand. But they've picked the wrong man, because Harry Mitchell doesn't get mad - he gets even.
My take......

This was a bit of a trip down memory lane for me. 52 Pick-Up was November’s selected read for my Pulp Fiction group over on Goodreads. In truth the monthly poll was comprised solely of Elmore books, as a tribute in memory of his recent passing. 52 Pick-Up would also have been one of my first introductions to the crime fiction genre, back in the late 80’s or early 90’s. Originally published in 1974, this was Leonard’s second or third foray into crime fiction having previously been penning westerns.

Well did the passage of time and the reading of a thousand-plus books in the intervening 20 years, diminish my enjoyment second-time around?

Hardly, I was still thrilled by the premise of the novel and the re-read came long enough after the first outing for me to have forgotten most of the detail and for the second visit to be fresh. (I drank champagne at my wedding 25 years ago; I know I enjoyed it, but I can’t remember what it tasted like!)

Mitchell despite his transgression is a likeable and capable main character. Unwilling to be pushed around when confronted by the blackmailers and put on the spot; he refuses to panic and decides to fight back, albeit initially against a faceless enemy. Shrewd and analytical, he calmly retraces his footsteps to the point where it all began. If he can put names and faces to the schemers, he has enough confidence in his abilities to defuse the situation, one way or another.

After confessing to his wife, Barbara; unsurprisingly relations on the home-front get frosty and matrimonial bliss is suspended. On the work front, union negotiations provide a further unwelcome distraction for Mitchell, particularly after his blackmailing adversaries up the ante and instead of punishing Harry for his infidelity, decide to frame him for murder instead. Mitchell whilst juggling a few balls in the air at the same time keeps his focus and endeavours to successfully multi-task.

Interesting, engaging, amusing, great scenes, fantastic dialogue, superb action, wonderful characters, satisfying climax. If you were to sample only one of Leonard’s books, you could do a lot worse than this one. 190 pages long, read in a day!

5 stars from 5 (for the 4th time this month!)

Unable to locate my copy, I had to make a sneaky second-hand purchase on e-bay.

( )
  col2910 | Apr 17, 2014 |
I enjoyed the writing but I did not enjoy some of the themes in the book. I would not recommend for my teenage niece. ( )
  klowe2121 | Mar 8, 2014 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0060083999, Mass Market Paperback)

Detroit businessman Harry Mitchell had had only one affair in his twenty-two years of happy matrimony. Unfortunately someone caught his indiscretion on film and now wants Harry to fork over one hundred grand to keep his infidelity a secret. And if Harry doesn't pay up, the blackmailer and his associates plan to press a lot harder -- up to and including homicide, if necessary. But the psychos picked the wrong pigeon for their murderous scam. Because Harry Mitchell doesn't get mad...he gets even.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:24:32 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

This novel, by one of the best-known names in American cult crime writing, tells the story of Harry Mitchell who becomes embroiled with Detroit thugs, blackmail and a bullet-riddled body.

(summary from another edition)

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