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Forty Lashes Less One

3.93  ·  Rating Details ·  617 Ratings  ·  47 Reviews
When Elmore Leonard was just starting out as a writer, a man could make a living writing Westerns, especially if he was good at it--and Elmore Leonard was one of the best. In his Western novels, you can see the earliest traces of themes that would emerge in his contemporary crime novels. Although sheriffs and cavalry men look a little different than cops and G-men, Leonard ...more
Mass Market Paperback, 168 pages
Published April 1972 by Bantam Books
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Dec 23, 2014 Jim rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2fiction, western, 1paper
No one does gritty like Leonard. This is bleak, barren, & ugly - the perfect prison. He had me sweating & dry as a bone in Yuma prison's heat when it's cold & wet here. Excellently done, but brutal & depressing. It was a quick read, but I just didn't get to it with the holidays. I should have.
Jul 14, 2017 Jay rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobook
Leonard writes with a cinematic touch, characters that stand out, locations vividly described, and with a plot that just possibly could happen, but probably not. That’s the case here. Start with an old West prison – you can picture the dust blowing, the bland buildings, the bars in the windows, the frumpy guards in dirty and drab uniforms. Drop in a new minister turned warden from the East, a real fish out of water. One who wants to prove he knows a thing or two about redemption and rehabilitati ...more
Sergio GRANDE films
I am not so erudite that can review a book without comparing it to other work.

But I can't compare this novel to other Elmore Leonard books -it's my first Leonard- and I can't compare it to other Westerns -it's my first one too.

I can only compare it to other other much-hyped novels from famous writers and I can only say, Not Bad.

I expected a little more in places and I didn't expect a few of the plot twists. I loved the ending, though.

Let's call it a 3 1/2 star which means: I'm glad I read it bu
Feb 24, 2017 Pop rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
One crazy book, but that's what you expect from Elmore Leonard. Not my favorite from Elmore, an author I really like. It's a period book (very early 1900's) which takes place primarily in the famous prison in Yuma Arizona. Many, many characters, and none of them very good. The best of the bunch is a wannabe Pentecostal preacher temporarily acting warden of the prison, a half-bread Apache and a black man born in Georgia. The worst of the none so good is the prison's turn-key, the King prisoner wh ...more
Don Massenzio
Forty Lashes Less One was a return to Leonard's western genre. Set in a desert prison, the story centers around the conflict-turned friendship between an African American and a Native American. This book is a bit more gritty than some of Leonard's books that I have read to date. The liberal use of the dreaded "N-word" throughout the book, although likely accurate to the culture of the time period, made me feel a bit uncomfortable as I read the book. The book has an interesting group of character ...more
Oct 18, 2016 Jim rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
This was advertised as a Western, or at least I thought so, but it is really a prison story set in the West that delves into racism within the incarcerated and their handlers, with a somewhat convoluted story line, that for me was not really believable. Entertaining, yes, but not really credible. And it lacked the humor I usually enjoy in his work.
Thomas Tyrer
May 29, 2017 Thomas Tyrer rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Nothing too much to say other than just another great Elmore Leonard western novel. Leonard returns to Yuma, site of his famous "3:10 to Yuma" short story, but spends a little more time on a brief (200 pages or so) novel about two men in Yuma prison, an African American and a Native American, forced to deal with would-be superior white guards and prisoners. It's testament to Leonard's craftsmanship that he begins the pair almost as caricatures than then evolves them into strong, uncompromising m ...more
Tony Duncan
May 15, 2017 Tony Duncan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Not a crime reader but read this book because they say his dialogue is the best. I agree its the best I've read. It was fun to read. A nice change after having read nothing but "literature" for the past ten years. You won't find many sentences that go beyond more than twenty words.
Oct 18, 2016 Sue rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The author thought that to write about this time frame is to give himself license to use derogatory, pejorative language to describe the only black man in the prison. blech Just kept getting worse, when Sambo, Zulu, coon and nigger kept coming up. Really detracted from the story.

Written in 1972--glad times are changing, but I don't have to read about it like this.
Heath Lowrance
Sep 01, 2014 Heath Lowrance rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Surprisingly funny Western that takes place mostly within the walls of Yuma prison in the early part of the 20th century. Harold is the only black inmate at the soon-to-be-closed Yuma, and Raymond is the only Indian, which makes them the targets of derision. Shelby, a prisoner with connections, makes their lives hell, until the new warden, Mr. Manly, takes a special interest in the pair and decides to elevate their confidence in the hopes he can bring them to Jesus. Harold and Raymond eventually ...more
May 10, 2015 joel rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Not comfortable with ethnic nicknames.

This story is about prisoners assigned to the old Territorial Prison, Yuma, AZ. The conflicts arise as two new convicts arrive at the facility one Black Civil War vet, and the other is, of course, a Membre Apache mistaken for Mexican. The inside gang that runs the prison, for profit, attempt to egg these two to fight. In addition the prison has come under temporary supervision of an unlearned, prison wise, preacher...of sorts. He rode into Yuma on the same s
Apr 24, 2014 Paul rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This is the worst of Elmore Leonard's books I've read, and the only one I couldn't recommend for anyone to read.

First of all, I didn't care about any of the characters. I wasn't rooting any of them on. I didn't really get the climax, either. I mean, I understood two guys going after the others for revenge, but I don't understand why anything that happened after the final shooting confrontation happened. That's not totally true, I kind of cared about a Mexican woman, but she was only a secondary
Carl R.
Aug 22, 2014 Carl R. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Forty Lashes Less One is another Elmore oater. I said I was off these for a while, but when a buddy drops this on the front porch--well, why put the friendship in danger? I've read a number of novels set in Yuma prison, back in them days. All of them pretty grim, of course. I've read a good deal of Elmore, much of it pretty humorous. Forty Lashes has the distinction of being not only set in one of the grimmest settings in history, but probably the funniest Leonard novel I've ever read.

The black
Jonathan Briggs
May 14, 2012 Jonathan Briggs rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I wish Elmore Leonard wrote more westerns. Absolutely nothing against his superb crime thrillers, but the western really brought out his inner Hemingway, terse and tough and worn to perfection like old saddle leather. “Forty Lashes” is a bit of a transition novel, taking place in the waning days of the Old West and published as Leonard was making the switch to urban action. It has more of the wiseass sense of humor that marks his later novels. Inside Yuma Prison, Harold Jackson and Raymond San C ...more
cat reads
As I was reading the book, I kept thinking, "What the hell is this?" I mean that in the best way. This is my first Leonard novel, and it's an interesting one after I've heard so much about this writer, mainly that his dialogue is top-notch.

I have to agree with the consensus that Leonard knows dialogue. Each character has their own distinct voice with exposition and character development expertly woven in.

The characters are shown with warts and all. Don't expect pretty. I enjoyed that, though.
Justin Decloux
I really wanted to like this one. I've had a rough time with the Elmore Leonard novels I've read, liking the mood and some characters, but finding them glacially paced. I started this one with a bit of trepidation, but the write up sounded so good "An Apache and the only black man behind the walls of Yuma prison hunt down five outlaws!". What's more kick butt then that!? And it is when it finally happens! The problem is that the prisoners hunting down outlaws plot only kicks in at page 214 and t ...more
Tim Prosser
Apr 12, 2012 Tim Prosser rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

Having read every Elmore Leonard book about ten times (possibly more!) I thought I'd take a look at some of his early westerns. I'm glad I did. This book has all the elements of his Detroit, Miami, and Atlantic City novels. Its all here in glorious print: oblique machine gun dialogue, closely observed behavior, a smiling sunny cynicism, a melancholic outrage and courage. Absolutely brilliant, I'm going to tuck into Valdez is Coming next. I vaguely remember the film with Burt Lancaster playing th
Cody Gardner
This is the first Elmore Leonard book that I have read and I must admit I was somewhat disappointed in it. However, I think it was more of the story and setting than anything else. Leonard is definitely a remarkable writer and I plan on reading more of his stuff. Wasn't too impressed with this story however. It takes too long to go anywhere. The last 20-30 pages are great though and I was impressed on how quickly he wrapped it all up without it seeming rushed. Even with my disappointment, I'm lo ...more
Oct 16, 2016 Doug rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: westerns
This is a prison novel, set in the early 20th century, in Yuma, Arizona. It contains some standards -- a prison yard boss, time in the hole, racial conflict, etc. An unwitting social service preacher takes over as temporary superintendent, and there is some humor around his earnest efforts to reform a couple of prisoners. The prison includes two women, which Leonard works to pulpy salacious effect. The novel (not really a surprise, of course) leads up toward a break... and I'll leave it at that. ...more
May 29, 2014 Bad-at-reading rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: western, comedy, prison, race
As someone who usually finds Leonard's books too pointless to really get into, his unpretentious yet insightful take on racism in this one was welcome. It gets a little jokey at times but unlike most white genre fiction writers to tackle the subject it seems a product of real empathy. Also interesting is that, being mostly set in a prison, it doesn't really feel like a western. But you know that outside the walls is the Arizona desert of 1908, and then at the end you go there.
Feb 25, 2014 Brian rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
When a somewhat pious, square warden runs into a guard crouching down and spying on the female prisoners taking a shower and has a hilarious back and forth about the guard's intentions, you have one of the most memorable scenes in any novel I've ever read.

This book was another example of Elmore Leonard's mastery of crisp plotting, fine set piece action, brief but descriptive atmospheric details and sharp dialogue, even if the central story has a great deal of silliness to it.
Monte Dutton
I already miss Elmore Leonard, and going back to his westerns is evidence of the void left in my reading list by his passing. Everything Leonard wrote was good. This one's long on stock characters. It reminded me of the latter-day John Wayne movies. It's entertaining, like,say, "Chisum," but not a classic like, say, "Red River." The difference, likely in general, too, is that authors, unlike actors, get better with age.
Dec 29, 2011 Patrick rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: westerns
There is an autumnal glow about this book, which in movie terms is more like "High Plains Drifter" than like "Silverado." Characters in this story are as hardboiled and believable as anything in Elmore Leonard's urban fiction, and a surprising tie-in to the travails of Paul the Apostle elevates this above the "horse opera" level well-trod by less ambitious writers in the western genre.
Dec 29, 2015 Luca rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A turn of the century prison romp with Apache and black leads, Leonard's FORTY LASHES LESS ONE may very well be the book where the author comes fully into his own as the Hollywood fave I was introduced to him as.

High drama and grimy violence alternates with Coenesque humor that finds the laffs in human ignorance and racism.

Bonus: one of my favourite closing lines on any book I've read.
A tragi-comic prison adventure with a Western flavor, but a totally original plot and characters. A quick and engaging read involving two racially stereotyped men, a native American and an African American, a preacher who is the temporary warden and an assorted cast of both wily and stupid bad guys.
TJ Wilson
Jul 28, 2014 TJ Wilson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, western
This is probably Elmore Leonard's most Spaghetti Western novel yet. It is a very odd idea or premise, but yet Leonard's confident style, his blunt writing, makes this story work. And, of course, the ending is very Leonardish, which I very much like. Leonard isn't scared of taking very odd and creative chances.
Not the most exciting book you'll pick off the shelf, but it is pretty good. Refreshingly concise with its style after reading several books that tended to bloviate and meander into maddening amounts of minutia.
David Saliba
Jul 08, 2012 David Saliba rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: western
If you like Leonard's crime fiction, you will like this book as well. While classified as a western, it is more about racial prejudice and hypocritical religious figures than cowboys. A enjoyable read.
David Williams
Mar 31, 2012 David Williams rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was an excellent book. It is a lot of fun. Best $3.99 I've spent in a long time. Thanks Amazon!
Jun 13, 2014 Bob rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

Good western in confined spaces. This book has the perfect balance of action and humor. Elmore was a very gifted author.
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Elmore John Leonard lived in Dallas, Oklahoma City and Memphis before settling in Detroit in 1935. After serving in the navy, he studied English literature at the University of Detroit where he entered a short story competition. His earliest published novels in the 1950s were westerns, but Leonard went on to specialize in crime fiction and suspense thrillers, many of which have been adapted into m ...more
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