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4.4 out of 5 stars
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4.4 out of 5 stars
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on 26 December 2014
When a trio of low life criminals decide to blackmail a married business owner they get more than they bargained for when Harry Mitchell decides to fight back. Full of tough characters and sizzling dialogue this gritty crime novel is a hidden gem in the high profile list of the author’s work. Where 52 Pickup really excels is that it takes a seemingly ordinary genre plot and brings enough twists and turns to make it seem like a rollercoaster. With a satisfying explosive conclusion I recommend this book to any curious crime fan who may be wondering why Elmore Leonard was so revered.
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on 5 January 2015
Final confrontations and their onset are hallmarks of Elmore Leonard (EL;1925-2013)’s writing. He used the cowboy-movie style showdowns in many forms. The winner is always cool, some losers too, only less so. More often, his losers are not very smart, esp. when working in twos or threes high on drugs and alcohol. EL’s smart crook in “Unknown Man No. 89” survived only by avoiding a confrontation – his dumb muscle man did not.
“52 Pick-Up” is situated in Detroit in 1974. It reads like a disaster foretold, because the city has since lost most of its car industry and population, and is now bankrupt. EL’s two storylines concern the city’s endemic crime and violence and the impact of labor unions on its motor industry.
When car-parts factory-owner Harry Mitchell (HM; 45) is fighting union-inspired sabotage and slowdowns, he is briefly abducted to a small cinema. And shown photos and film images of his secret affair with young Cynthia. He knew her only for three months and wanted to end the affair when he was captured in her apartment.
What follows is momentous and thrilling, with Harry reverse-engineering all he remembers from his capture and cinema viewing, to find first one, then the other two (why else ask for USD 105,000?) blackmailers, one of whom soon scares his beloved wife of 22 years, Barbara in her own home. Things get worse because of what he also saw in the cinema: Cynthia being shot dead with five, not just one bullet, from his own, now missing gun along with other evidence pointing at him as her killer…
Inventive and compelling, with all characters instantly believable by how they think and talk. Great background, plotting and dialogue. It ends in another dramatic final confrontation. Highly recommended.
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on 18 November 1998
Brilliant book, plot opens like an onion skin, revealing more as you go along with twists that make you hold your breath. The final sting in the tale is classic Elmore Leonard. The man is a genius.
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on 3 May 2014
Local businessman Harry Mitchell is the respectable, hard-working boss of a small Detroit engineering company. Happily married to his wife Barbara for twenty-two years, he has a mid-life crisis affair with a young model from a nudie bar. Turns out the model works for some local hoods who start blackmailing Mitchell, threatening to expose him if he doesn’t pay them large. That’s where the novel starts. The main storyline is about how Mitchell handles his predicament.

As you would expect from Leonard, even though this was one of his earlier books written in the 70s, it cracks along at a fair old pace. The characters’ dialogue is trademark Leonard - sharp, witty and believable. Leonard had the best ear for realistic urban dialogue of almost any writer I know. He was also a great believer in ‘taking out the boring bits’ - long narrative descriptions which slow the story down. In 52 Pick-up he pares those back to a few sparse details about drugs, guns, and engineering processes necessary to give the story ballast and credibility. But in terms of pacing a story, Leonard is still the gold standard. Any writer starting out would learn more from simply reading his work than they’d get from a lifetime of Creative Writing class.

Okay, now to the main flaw of 52 Pick-up, as I saw it. The blurb on Amazon says, “But they've picked the wrong man, because Harry Mitchell doesn't get mad - he gets even,” and for me that was the main weakness of the book, in terms of the implausibility of the hero’s go-it-alone actions. At several points in the story, especially the beginning, you are yelling at Harry Mitchell to simply go tell the police. Job done. Then of course Leonard wouldn’t have a book. Which is fair enough, but Leonard never really solves the implausibility problem, or gives us a believable enough reason why Harry Mitchell wouldn’t go to the cops. There’s a slim bit of back story about his war record which attempts to convey an ‘inner steel’, but it doesn’t really explain why he’d act so irrationally. Mitchell is supposed to be an intelligent, law-abiding, self-made businessman. Yet when any sane person would want the law on their side he comes up with one phoney, half-assed excuse after another why he needs to do it ‘his way’. The most plausible reason of all - to keep it secret so his wife doesn’t find out - is discarded less than a quarter of the way into the book. After that, his continued pig-headedness is never really justified, from the reader’s point of view. Go. Tell. The. Police. You keep saying it to yourself, on every page.

Also, the way Mitchell reacts to horrifying events like murder, rape, having a burglar in your bedroom or a gun pointed at you, without even breaking sweat, just doesn’t ring true. His macho cock-suredness lacks the vulnerability, for instance, that gave the Paul Kersey vigilante his credibility in Death Wish. It also leads, ultimately, to a frankly unbelievable denouement at the end of 52 Pick-up. Without giving away too much (mild spoiler alert!) the author asks us to believe in ‘happy ever after’, when in reality the ramifications of Harry Mitchell’s actions at the end of the novel would have been catastrophic for his future - his liberty, his marriage, his family, his business, his reputation - all the things supposed to be most precious to him.

Despite these flaws in a relatively early Leonard book, I still enjoyed reading it. The story never flagged and the suspenseful end to every chapter left me eager to read the next. I’d probably sum it up best by saying I’d rather read a bad book by Elmore Leonard than a good one by a lesser writer. 52 Pick-up fits that description perfectly.
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on 12 September 2013
The novel had me hooked right up until the denouement. Towards the end, the characters reactions to the events they found themselves in seemed unrealistic. I felt that the protagonist was too calm, and his reactions never went above lukewarm. But that aside, the dialogue is gritty and real, and even though it was written in the early 70s, it still holds up today. The writing itself is powerful and descriptive, without any unnecessary prose to bog the story down, and it was that which kept me turning the pages. I'll certainly be checking out more of Mr Leonard's work. The man had talent.
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This is a crime thriller set in Detroit in the 1970s. The central character is Harry Mitchell, a pillar of the community, who owns a successful engineering business. He has been happily married for twenty-two years to Barbara. Then, out of character and for the first time, he has an affair with a young model he met at a bar. Later he learns that he has been set up when two masked men take him at gunpoint to a disused cinema where he is shown films of himself with the girl. He is threatened with exposure unless he pays a substantial sum of money. Harry does not rush to pay them and, increasingly desperate and frustrated, the sadistic pair kill the model using Harry's gun stolen from his house. They film the murder and use it to put further pressure on him to pay. But Harry is not the type to give in without a fight and the book is mainly about how he finds the identities of the gangsters (a third one later emerges) and coolly outwits them, largely by playing each off against the others. This results in two of the gang members being shot following disputes amongst themselves. Harry himself kills the remaining one, who has kidnapped Barbara and is holding her hostage, in an ingenious `sting' during the delivery of the money. At the end, Harry and Barbara are reunited and there is no useful evidence remaining, either of Harry's initial `misdemeanor', or his solution to the blackmail problem. A very `clean' ending.

52 Pickup differs from so many crime thrillers in that the plot is very simple, with few characters and no subplots, although there are certainly twists and turns along the way. Neither does it rely on unbelievable coincidences and the like. It is written in a clear straightforward style, spare and without extraneous details. It is a great read.
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on 14 June 2006
If there is a reference in the book that clarifies the title then I missed it - not that it matters in the slightest. This is vintage Leonard. The main character is superbly well drawn as are the petty villains he has to deal with. What is more, you know what each one does for a living rather than their personalities being caricatured before being shoved in your face.

A very satisfying read.
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on 17 April 2012
This is a vigilante novel that is not as good as his later books. Too much description and too little dialogue, but it gives the reader some idea about the writer's subsequent development.
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on 3 November 2015
Classic Leonard.

Believable razor sharp dialogue, great story and characters.

Superior crime fiction.

Personally loved this story so highly recommended..
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on 5 May 2010
Nothing pretentious just a great little crimer thriller, pitched plot and prose perfect. Kept me turning the pages until the explosive finale. Vintage Dutch.
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