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3.87  ·  Rating details ·  3,452 ratings  ·  255 reviews
This "brilliant caper" (New York Times) from bestselling author Elmore Leonard is a rollicking tale of modern urban crime featuring a cast of small-time criminals with big-time dreams.

Ernest Stickley Jr. figures his luck's about to change when Detroit used-car salesman Frank Ryan catches him trying to boost a ride from Ryan's lot. Frank's got some surefire schemes for gett
Paperback, 240 pages
Published December 2nd 2004 by Phoenix (first published 1976)
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3.87  · 
Rating details
 ·  3,452 ratings  ·  255 reviews

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Jack Tripper
Mar 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mystery-crime, noir
Dialogue can really make or break a novel for me. Good thing Elmore Leonard could write it so well I'd imagine even Tarantino gets jealous occasionally. In fact, this novel as a whole reminded me of 90s-era Tarantino, to the point where I was actually picturing Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs characters while reading.

The setup is pretty basic. We follow two charismatic, low-level hoods in Detroit who decide to team-up, knocking off liquor stores, bars, grocery stores, etc, taking more risks the
Dan Schwent
When used car salesman Frank Ryan catches Ernest Stickley stealing a car off his lot, ideas start going through his head. Soon, Ryan and Stickley are armed robbers and damn good ones. Things go smoothly until someone offers them a crack at even bigger money...

Like many Elmore Leonard books, Swag is a fast-moving crime story. The two main characters, Ryan and Stick, are cast from one of Leonard' standard molds: the criminals who aren't as smart as they think they are. They're a bit of an odd coup
James Thane
Mar 24, 2010 rated it really liked it
Frank Ryan is working as a used car salesman when he catches Ernest Stickly, Jr.--"Stick"--boosting a car from the lot. Frank picks Stick out of a lineup, and the cops seem to have Stick dead to rights, but when the case comes to trial, Frank takes the stand and claims that he's no longer sure about his identification. Without Frank's testimony, the case collapses and Stick goes free.

Frank later catches up with Stick and says that he admires his talent and the only reason that he even called the
R.K. Gold
Mar 28, 2016 rated it really liked it
If you're looking for fast reads and entertainment, Leonard is your man. I was shocked by how quickly I finished Swag. For entertainment alone I'd give it five stars, the reason I am only giving it four is that it didn't have any emotional draw for me. It's not like I felt a connection with any of the characters, including during the (view spoiler) at the end.

The plot rapidly progresses from moment of meeting between the two characters to the peak of their success to th
Oct 21, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015, fiction, crime
"After the first few weeks he began to take it in stride. They were pros, that's why it was easy. They knew exactly what they were doing."
- Elmore Leonard, Swag


I've read several of Leonard's 90s crime novels (Get Shorty, Out of Sight, etc) but I was given Elmore Leonard's Four Novels of the 1970s for my birthday (thanks Keith) and decided to start with 'Swag'. It was great, gritty Detroit crime fiction. So, in honor of this novel, here are ten rules for Detroit hardboiled fiction:

1. There needs
S.P. Aruna
Apr 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: thriller-mystery
Typical Elmore Leonard: quirky characters, a farcical plot, and a satisfactory ending.

A used car salesman teams up with a fumbling car thief, and after drawing up 10 rules, claims to have a formula for foolproof robberies. The first rule is "Always be polite on the job and say please and thank you."

But then, after a spell of knocking over liquor stores and supermarkets, they get greedy, and gradually the rules are abandoned. From then on, the reader is caught up in the suspense of finding out
Lance Charnes
Jun 01, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Elmore Leonard completists; people nostalgic for the 1970s
We're so used to Elmore Leonard being an icon of modern crime fiction that it's hard to remember that back in the 1960s and 1970s he was just another genre author, more known for his Westerns than the crime novels he began turning out in 1969. It's even harder to remember that he didn't spring out of the ground fully-formed; he had to learn how to be Elmore Leonard. Swag, the third of his Detroit-based crime stories, is an example of Leonard in progress but not yet the king.

Ernest "Stick" Stickl
Jan 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: crime-mystery
This was my first Elmore Leonard -- I wasn't expecting too much..., since he's so popular/successful, you mainly hear a lot of criticism about how lousy he is..., and the comparisons with James Ellroy worried me, since Ellroy - though I liked the two books I read - is, after all, more than a little artificial. But this was just a straightforward great read -- characters, plot-twists, utterly believable... It was a good book to start with.
May 28, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
3.5. This one had great characterization but some of the hold-ups don't really, erm, hold-up nowadays; actually, I don't see how some of them would have held-up even at the time this was published in the mid-70s. They never covered their faces. I know most stores didn't have big time surveillance, but the employees and shop owners did have eyes.

I picked this particular book to try out Leonard's work because out of all of his, and he has a lot, this one seemed to be a fan favorite. From a charac
Mattia Ravasi
Aug 14, 2015 rated it it was amazing
#17 in my Top 20 Books I Read in 2015:

This is how you write a thriller: gritty, brutally real, fun fun fun, and SHORT by God, the kind of book you can read during an afternoon on the beach and still have time for a swim and a game of beach volley. Leonard's up there with the very best.
Jul 18, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
My daughters were horrified to see that I had a book entitled "Swag." A quick Google for current usage will explain.

Leonard's "Swag" is a highly enjoyable crime buddy story, with snappy odd-couple dialog, and a few twists that carry on right to the last page.
Jul 12, 2009 rated it really liked it
I may be on a Leonard kick for the rest of the Summer. It started with his most recent book, Road Dogs, which led me -- probably via an recommendation, to one of his first published crime stories. Set in Detroit, Swag is the first of what becomes a series of stories about a car thief turned armed robber named Stick. Stick is a cool guy and like most of Leonard's work, this story just moves.

In fact, I was late to work one day this week because I got caught up in the last 3rd of the boo
Bobbie Darbyshire
Apr 15, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I’m blown away by my first Elmore Leonard and must soon read another. On the face of it ‘Swag’ is a smallish story, sparely told, about two small-time crooks in 1970s Detroit, but Leonard’s subtle art makes it so much more. He trusts the reader to know what isn’t written – the laughs, the plot implications, the dilemmas, the deepening psychology. I found myself caring a lot for I-won’t-say-whom without once being told to care, Leonard’s methods are so unobtrusive. The characters are real, flawed ...more
James  Love
The comedic stick-up team.

The first names alone remind me of the newspaper comic strip Frank & Earnest. The fun starts with an Abbott and Costello style car theft. The line-up and arraignment hearing just continues the humorous story. This is the first appearance of Frank Ryan (Luke Wilson) and Ernest "Stick" Stickley (Burt Reynolds). I'm not sure if Frank is any relation to the Jack Ryan of The Big Bounce and The Unknown Man #89. They are obviously no relation to Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan.
Wayne Barrett
Jun 13, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: crime, 2014
I wouldn't call it great, but the story was good. One thing that is great though is Elmore's use of dialogue. The man is a master.
Marc Gerstein
Jul 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: general-fiction
I’m not familiar with the crime fiction genre, so I can’t comment on it in those terms. But as an easy summertime book-club read, it works quite well. It starts out with Frank and Stick taking a very professional business-like approach to armed robbery, and it works well for them. But success brings its own challenges, mainly the temptation to try to move beyond that which has worked so well. A good deal of what follows is predictable but entertaining, but there’s a lot that’s not predictable an ...more
Jun 28, 2009 rated it really liked it
I picked this up not knowing it was written in 1976; the synopsis on the back is what made me take it home since I figured it was time I gave Leonard a try. I intended to buy "Get Shorty", I think, but the bookstore was sold out of it so I grabbed this instead. It was the synopsis that got me, but more than that it was the Boston Globe quote on the back describing Leonard's prose as being "lean and shifty," which is exactly what I wanted to take a loot at since I'm working on achieving the same ...more
Sep 09, 2014 rated it really liked it
SWAG. (1976). Elmore Leonard. ****.
This is the second novel included in the recent volume from Library of America. We get to meet Ernest (Stick) and Frank, two low level hoods who decide to get into the business of armed robbery. It all works out very well at first, when they concentrate on grocery stores and liquor stores and similar targets. They average about $2,000 per week – more than they can spend. They decide that they can start moving up to bigger capers, and join up with a local gang t
Dec 16, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I figured out the trick. I have to stop reading in the middle of a chapter if I’m going to put these books down at all. Otherwise, there’s no chance. Either it’s three o’clock in the morning and I’ve read the whole thing or it’s evening and last thing I knew it was noon.

Earnest “Stick” Stickley Jr. and his partner in how to achieve success and happiness in armed robbery, Frank Ryan? Yes, please. All day long.
Stephen Arnott
May 01, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: crime, favorites
This is absolutely my favourite Elmore Leonard novel. One that also introduced me to what is now my favourite summer drink, 'The Salty Dog'.

Other reviewers will have given you the gist of the story. All I'll add is that the ending will twist you around like you were made of rubber - it's incredible.
Oct 10, 2015 rated it really liked it
I read this because the New York Review of Books had an interesting article about Leonard's writing. It was a relaxing pleasure to read -- two guys and a life of theft of grocery stores, etc. as a kind of job. I haven't read Elmore Leonard in a long time, and I really liked this. It was straightforward both in plot and writing, and was a great vacation book.
"Everybody had to be a smart-ass, get a laugh and make it look easy. It wore you out, thinking, just staying in a conversation."
Seth Skorkowsky
Jul 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audio
I picked this up because Frank Muller performed the audio edition. I'm a huge Muller fan, and he can make any book better.
Swag is a fun crime novel. Published in the 1970's, it's a good bit dated. Expect some racism and sexism from our heroes. The heroes in question are a pair of low-life armed robbers who aren't as smart as they think they are.
One reviewer compared it to a Tarantino film and I think that's probably the best description that can ever be given to it. There's a lot of casual conv
Jim Beatty
May 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
What do you want, a job, or a clear sky?
Steve Greenleaf
Oct 17, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: crime-fiction
Elmore Leonard died about a month ago. I’d never read any of his books. But I’d learned a lot about them after he died. Appreciations of his writing appeared in the New York Times and in the New Yorker. I read these reviews. Based on these comments, I came to the conclusion that Leonard was a writer’s writer. Many people praised his style. His economy of style.

In addition to reading all of these appreciations, I knew Leonard wrote about crime, and there is perhaps no better genre to enjoy than c
Aug 28, 2013 rated it really liked it
So this is where Tarantino found his inspiration! A good read. Often it doesn’t feel like a crime novel so much as like one of those low-key dirty realist novels by authors like Frederick Barthelme, about people with humdrum lives to whom nothing much exciting happens (which is exactly what makes those books feel so realist!) – except that this is about two guys who are on an armed robbery spree. It has everything Leonard is always praised for: very good, very lifelike dialogue, which seeps into ...more
Feb 05, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: leonard
136 reviews...this will be 137. i've read 45 stories from leonard, not all he has written...i will read all of them give me time...and i read this one earlier this year, back in february and now it is december...the 18th...about 8 degrees outside on the f-scale...we've had close to 60" of snow this winter and the sun is shining...doesn't happen much or not near enough. read...take the vitamin d. leonard is good for what ails you on a cold grey (okay, so the sun is out today)...if the ph ...more
Jan 23, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
To explain my rating on this one I have to explain where my head was at. Firstly, I downloaded a book I'd already read, and only realised it when I was about a third the way through. But that's OK because for me, Elmore Leonard is like my favourite milkshake, I might have had vanilla malt yesterday, but that doesn't stop me wanting vanilla malt today.

I should have realised it quicker, from the set up, which sees a used car salesman with criminal leanings watch as a car gets stolen from his car l
Taylor Hensel
Dec 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Every time I think I've found my favorite Elmore Leonard novel, I read another and fall head over heels in love with that one. I've been slowly but surely working my way through Dutch's library since I was 16--I'm 23 now--and I've knocked out about 11 volumes so far, this being No. 11. Prior to reading "Swag," I thought my favorite was "Glitz," but now I'm not so sure. "Swag" is by far the cleanest, most exciting, and by far the funniest Leonard novel I've ever read. Why Hollywood hasn't latched ...more
Jenny Vaughan
Dec 07, 2013 rated it liked it
SPOILER ALERT! The only way that I could bring this book to life in my mind was to imagine that I was watching a Quentin Tarantino movie. "Swag" is quick and readable, and nothing that I would have ever picked up without the impetus of my book club. I'm glad I read it, though, if only for the exposure to something new and different. It's very sleazeball seventies, and full of characters that I could never in a million years relate to. Except Stick, of course, and I say of course because I assume ...more
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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