By MIKE HOUSEHOLDER
DETROIT — Elmore Leonard, the beloved crime novelist whose acclaimed best-sellers and the movies made from them chronicled the violent deaths of many a thug and con man, has died. He was 87.
Leonard, winner of an honorary National Book Award in 2012, died this morning from complications from a stroke, according to his researcher, Gregg Sutter. Sutter said Elmore was surrounded by his family when he died.
His millions of fans, from bellhops to Saul Bellow, made all his books since "Glitz" (1985) best-sellers. When they flocked to watch John Travolta in the movie version of "Get Shorty" in 1995, its author became the darling of Hollywood's hippest directors. And book critics and literary lions, prone to dismiss crime novels as mere entertainments, competed for adjectives to praise him.
His more than 40 novels were populated by pathetic schemers, clever conmen and casual killers. Each was characterized by moral ambivalence about crime, black humor and wickedly acute depictions of human nature: the greedy dreams of Armand Degas in "Killshot," the wisecracking cool of Chili Palmer in "Get Shorty," Jack Belmont's lust for notoriety in "The Hot Kid."
"When something sounds like writing, I rewrite it," Leonard often said; and critics adored the flawlessly unadorned, colloquial style. As author Ann Arensberg put it in a New York Times book review, "I didn't know it was possible to be as good as Elmore Leonard."
Leonard spent much of his childhood in Detroit and set many of his novels in the city. Others were set in Miami near his North Palm Beach, Fla., vacation home.
One remarkable thing about Leonard's talent is how long it took the world to notice. He didn't have a best-seller until his 60th year, and few critics took him seriously before the 1990s.