Detroit businessman Harry Mitchell is a self-made man, happily married for over twenty-two years and a pillar of the community. But then he slips - he meets a young 'model' and begins an affair. One night he arrives at his girlfriend's apartment and finds more than he bargained for. Two masked men have caught his misdemeanours on camera and now they want a cool hundred grand. But they've picked the wrong man, because Harry Mitchell doesn't get mad - he gets even.
This was a bit of a trip down memory lane for me. 52 Pick-Up was November’s selected read for my Pulp Fiction group over on Goodreads. In truth the monthly poll was comprised solely of Elmore books, as a tribute in memory of his recent passing. 52 Pick-Up would also have been one of my first introductions to the crime fiction genre, back in the late 80’s or early 90’s. Originally published in 1974, this was Leonard’s second or third foray into crime fiction having previously been penning westerns.
Well did the passage of time and the reading of a thousand-plus books in the intervening 20 years, diminish my enjoyment second-time around?
Hardly, I was still thrilled by the premise of the novel and the re-read came long enough after the first outing for me to have forgotten most of the detail and for the second visit to be fresh. (I drank champagne at my wedding 25 years ago; I know I enjoyed it, but I can’t remember what it tasted like!)
Mitchell despite his transgression is a likeable and capable main character. Unwilling to be pushed around when confronted by the blackmailers and put on the spot; he refuses to panic and decides to fight back, albeit initially against a faceless enemy. Shrewd and analytical, he calmly retraces his footsteps to the point where it all began. If he can put names and faces to the schemers, he has enough confidence in his abilities to defuse the situation, one way or another.
After confessing to his wife, Barbara; unsurprisingly relations on the home-front get frosty and matrimonial bliss is suspended. On the work front, union negotiations provide a further unwelcome distraction for Mitchell, particularly after his blackmailing adversaries up the ante and instead of punishing Harry for his infidelity, decide to frame him for murder instead. Mitchell whilst juggling a few balls in the air at the same time keeps his focus and endeavours to successfully multi-task.
Interesting, engaging, amusing, great scenes, fantastic dialogue, superb action, wonderful characters, satisfying climax. If you were to sample only one of Leonard’s books, you could do a lot worse than this one. 190 pages long, read in a day!
5 stars from 5 (for the 4th time this month!)
Unable to locate my copy, I had to make a sneaky second-hand purchase on e-bay.