Thursday, September 23, 2021

Another Look at Out of Sight by Elmore Leonard

Twenty-plus years of Elmore Leonard imitators – with Quentin Tarantino at the front of the pack, and imitators of imitators – have taken some of the edge off, and the fun out of Leonard’s dialogue. But not all of it.

His 1996 novel, Out of Sight, is still a fast, breezy read with well drawn characters, tons of suspense, and swift violent action that hits you like a smack in the face.

Out of Sight is the story of wanted bank robber Jack Foley and federal marshal Karen Sisco who is hunting for him.

Jack and Karen first meet outside a Florida prison when she arrives just as he pops up out of an escape tunnel. Jack, and a buddy waiting for him, overpower Karen, put her in the trunk of her own car and then Jack climbs in with her.

Snuggled up to each other for the getaway, they get to talking as if on a date.

This may sound familiar because director Steven Soderbergh made a good movie from it with George Clooney as Jack and Jennifer Lopez as Karen.

Karen gets away from Jack and Jack gets away from the law. But there was a weird kind of connection between them in that trunk and each wants to see the other again.

Jack and his buddy, Buddy, drive from Florida to Michigan and get with some violent gangsters planning to rob a mansion. Karen gets a line on Jack and tracks him to Detroit.

Why two cool bank robbers like Jack and Buddy would get involved with this new plan is the biggest mystery in Leonard’s crime story. But the author’s skill and style makes it easy to overlook that little problem.

The main thing that diverts a reader’s attention from the hitches in the plot is the budding love story between Jack and Karen. The savvy, middle aged, and very smooth bank robber is smitten with the young, attractive fed. The danger of falling hard for her is whether Karen will fall for him or snap the cuffs on him.

At its heart, Out of Sight, is a romance novel and an example of what can happen when the master of one genre dips into another.


  1. Another late Leonard novel I need to read, after enjoying the film adaptation. (Was briefly discussing the disappointing DJIBOUTI on Dorothy-L today.) OUT OF SIGHT and JACKIE BROWN make a fine double-feature, and even manage to share two cast members, in Samuel Jackson and Michael Keaton (playing different, if not Completely different, roles). There's nothing that says a romance novel isn't also a hardboiled crime novel...even within the strictures of romance publishing, romantic suspense fiction is a thriving category.

    Also, there was a fine if regrettably short-lived television series based on OUT OF SIGHT, called KAREN SISCO, featuring Carla Gugino in the title role. (As I recall, on a season before the similarly good, similarly short-lived series based on Leonard's MAXIMUM BOB.) There were certainly some misses among the films and television made from Leonard's work, but even some of the commercial failures were very good indeed.

  2. I'll have to dig out some Leonard books next year. (And some of the film adaptations.) It's been too long since I spent time with him.