Picks and Pans Review: Get Shorty

updated 09/10/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/10/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Elmore Leonard

A cynic might think old Elmore has revenge on his mind, getting back at what Hollywood has done to a few of his novels by writing this acidic, get-them-laughing-then-punch-them-in-the-gut, splendidly entertaining crime tale. Its moral seems to be that gangsters are a lot like the people who make movies, except crooks are more efficient and have a deeper sense of honor.

Leonard's protagonist, Chili Palmer, is an easy-going kind of loan shark, in semiretirement in Florida. But then one of his clients skips off to Las Vegas still owing him. so Chili dutifully lakes off after him. It's not long before Palmer is in Los Angeles, hooking up with a has-been horror movie producer, Harry Zimm, a former B-movie actress, Karen Flores, and a current star, Michael Weir. Soon Chili is deciding he knows enough—which isn't all that much—to get into the filmmaking business.

It wouldn't be a Leonard novel without colorful villains, and this one has Ray Bones, an old enemy who has become Chili's boss in the Florida hierarchy, and Bo Catlett. a slick-dressing Angeleno who with his pal Ronnie is a jack-of-all-crimes, including murder.

In this company Chili comes off as a relatively nice guy, and one who knows how to use his expertise. " 'What's the guy gonna do, Catlett, take a swing at me?' " he says to Harry." 'He might've wanted to, but he had to consider first, who is this guy? He don't know me. All he knows is I'm looking at him like if he wants to try me I'll f——— take him apart. Does he want a go for it, get his suit messed up? I mean even if he's good he can see it would be work."

" 'He could've had a gun." Harry said.

" 'It wasn't a gun kind of situation.' "

Harry himself is on the hard-bitten side, recalling one unpleasant literary agent he had dealt with: " 'I asked him one time what type of writing brought the most money and the agent says, "Ransom notes." ' "

Things fall into place too easily for Chili at times, but Leonard compensates with nice twists, snappy action scenes and more than one blood-drawing zinger. You have to like a Hollywood novel in which a woman studio executive can say. " 'Harry, I feel as if I know you. I've been a fan of yours ever since Slime Creatures. They remind me of so many people I know in the industry.' " (Delacorte. $18.95)

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