Tony's Reviews > Split Images: A Novel

Split Images by Elmore Leonard
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May 05, 12

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Read in January, 2012

I pretty much agree with the general consensus that Leonard is a master of the crime genre and of storytelling in general. His books manage to be perfectly unadorned by stylistic flashiness and yet chock full of compelling characters and sparkling dialogue. That said, this book has to rank as one of his less successful ones -- either that, or just hasn't aged very well. It's preoccupations -- guns and video voyeurism -- are both completely of the time it was written (1981) and still relevant today, but the story is just a bit more plodding than usual.

Set in Palm Beach and Detroit just after the assassination attempt of President Reagan, the story revolves around handsome industrialist Robbie Daniels. In addition to having more money than he can possibly spend, he also has gun fetish, and may be a psychopath intent on feeding his curiosity about what it feels and looks like to shoot someone. In addition to a very nice gun collection, he's gotten really into the new technology of home video cameras and security, and all he needs now is a wingman of sorts to help him engineer a hit. When he shoots and kills a Haitian trespasser, the detective who's assigned to the case proves to be sympathetic, and is soon enticed to quit his job and work for Daniels as a driver/bodyguard/technical expert.

However, the detective is still embroiled in a legal proceeding regarding a deadly shooting he was involved in as a Detroit cop, and his former fellow office Bryan Hurd is called upon in the lawsuit. When a key witness in that case is shot to death, Hurd is assigned the case, and his attention soon falls upon Daniels. The other person interested in the millionaire is freelance journalist Angela Nolan, who is trying to write a profile of him. Hurd and Nolan have an instant connection and before too long, the two of them are trying to piece together what's going on. The quasi-investigation that follows is full of the usual sly wit and reversals that are the trademarks of Leonard's capers, but in this instance the pacing is off. The central conceit of the millionaire psycho also feels kind of thin, almost like a short story or novella that's been padded out to novel length.

Like all Leonard's books, this one is a reasonably decent way to pass the time, but it's just not up to his usual standards. One sign that it's not quite up to snuff is that the only adaptation to date was a mediocre TV movie from 1992. Still, if you need a dose of Leonard's trademark dialogue, this will do the trick.
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