Picks and Pans Review: Rum Punch
In this, his 30th novel, Leonard successfully brings back two equally solid and slimy characters from his 15th. Ordell Robbie and Louis Gara were losers when they first met in The Switch and are no better off now working out of humid South Florida, the former running illegal guns, the latter helping a bail bondsman named Max Cherry avoid a mob squeeze.
Ordell's plan is to rip off a neo-Nazi gunrunner who's a shade too stupid for the trade, but he can't seem to figure a way to do it that doesn't include Louis. For his part, Louis is dumb enough to follow along. Part of the plan invokes Ordell's courier, a flight attendant named Jackie Burke (hands down, Leonard's most complete and complex female character ever), who helps move the guns from the Bahamas to Palm Beach. The trio are primed to move against the neo-Nazi when Jackie gets nabbed holding $50,000 and finds herself staring at five years in jail.
Max Cherry, a former cop who has looked for love in every place but the right one, bails Jackie out and decides to protect her as well as he can. This means losing Ordell, not as easy as it seems. Soon, a couple of bodies start to drop (including that of a federal agent), Jackie and Max cook up a scheme of their own, and everybody shakes out more moves than a chess champion, all in the hope of securing a large and totally illegal payday.
Rum Punch is Leonard's best work since LaBrava and Glitz. Happily pitting one nefarious character against another, he brilliantly reaffirms his right to the title of America's finest crime-fiction writer. (Delacorte, $21)
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