by Elmore Leonard
Judge Bob Gibbs, or, as his friends call him, "Big," is known for handing out the maximum sentence for even the pettiest of crimes. Kathy Baker is a probation officer who runs into the hard-nosed judge while working on the case of Dale Crowe, a punk kid who can't keep out of trouble. Gibbs has always had girls on the side since his wife has become more and more distant over the years, and is interested in Kathy from the get-go.
A live alligator ends up in Gibbs's yard one day, prompting a police investigation, with any number of suspects, including Dale Crowe's mischievous uncle Elvin, who was sent to prison by Maximum Bob, and just recently released. Along the way, we run into a whole cast of colorful Floridian characters from the seedier side, including an unlicensed dermatologist and his Cuban houseboy - both mischievous in their own ways.
Elmore Leonard has a keen ear for dialogue and, in my opinion, is second to none in today's crime fiction writing. His characters are society's outcasts: criminals who can't stay out of trouble because they are just too stupid. But he treats them with full attention, and they never act out of character; everyone's got their motives, it's just a matter of who can outfox the others by being less incompetent.
October 18, 2004