Freaky Deaky by Elmore Leonard
Post by Scott Montgomery
About ten years ago, when I told Elmore Leonard Freaky Deaky was my favorite book of his, he said “mine too”. It probably contains every thing he’s known for. While very funny, it isn’t defined by it’s quirkiness the way many of his post Get Shorty books are. What he does so deftly is weave a subtle satire on the battle between the 60s and the 80s, within a suspenseful crime novel.
The book begins with one of the best first chapters I have ever read. It could be lifted from the book and be a sharp short story all its own. Chris Mankowski, a cop with one day left on the bomb squad, responds to the call from a Detroit drug dealer. An explosive device has been rigged to the chair he’s sitting in. If he gets up, he blows up. Mankowski steps outside to talk with another cop, and Leonard deals with character exposition tied completely to the situation, literally with a ticking bomb in the background. Not only do we learn that Mankowski is transferring to Sex Crimes, we also realize through his actions that while a descent guy, he’s not necessarily a hero. The chapter concludes with a great twist that can only work in prose form.
We then go to our main “bad guys”, Skip and Robin; two former revolutionaries who have gone underground after bombing a federal buiding. Skip has been working as an explosives expert in film, while Robin writes historical romances under a pen name “with lots of rape and adverbs.” Robin believes they were turned in by Woody Ricks, a rich former collegue who now produces musicals. The two hatch a plan to extort money out of Woody with Skip’s explosive skills.
On Mankowski’s first day at Sex Crimes he takes the complaint of a young actress, Greta Wyatt. She’s had an aggressive casting couch situation. Her attacker, Woody Ricks.
Mankowski’s investigation leads him into Robin and Skips plot, as well as the scheming of Donell Lewis, a fomer Black Panther who now works as Woody’s assistant and bodygaurd. The characters circle one another and switch alliances. In typical Elmore Leonard fashion, we get stand offs that result in negotiation as often as gunfire (or in this case, explosions).
Every major character except Greta, who has to be told who Bobby Seals is, are 60s survivors negotiating the 80s. Mankowski, a Vietnam vet, deals with his past in the Leonard definition of cool (“existing only in the moment”). The only time he mentions it he simply says he served, went to a few protests, then became a cop. Ordell has become jaded and is now out to get his from Woody, who is lost in his decade’s indulgences. Robyn still sees a cause, but uses it as a rationalization for her narcassistic plan. Skip simply looks at that decade as a great excuse to have a lot of sex, do a lot of drugs, and blow shit up. In an odd way his attitude makes him the most likable, albeit the most unstable, character in the book.
Freaky Deaky is Elmore Leonard’s masterpiece. While it has a lot to say, it is said through the characters instead of the author. When talking with the great novelist James Crumley about Leonard, he said, “Dutch is a master of the understatement.”
Freaky Deaky is a great example of that.