Richie Nix is a not-too-bright violent criminal who bumps into a contract killer, Armand (known as "Blackbird"), and persuades him to go along with his idea of blackmailing an estate agent. But when they get to the estate agent's office, it's someone else they meet: Wayne Colson, an ironworker, and his wife Carmen. Richie thinks that Wayne is the estate agent and that he's trying to be smart by pretending not to know anything about the phone-call he made earlier telling him to get money ready, but Wayne manages to chase him and Blackbird off. Richie and Blackbird get away with nothing, but they've been seen by Wayne and Carmen, and are both wanted to murder, so they need to come back and eliminate the witnesses.
This is one of the best Leonard books I've read. It's got a great story, great characters (I don't know how, but he manages to make them all distinctive), tension, and laugh-out-loud moments. Richie, as the too-big-for-his-boots minor league bank-robber is in stark contrast to "the Bird" (as he calls Armand) who is thoughtful, measured and sinister. I heard Tarantino has optioned this book and a lot of the dialogue is very Pulp-fictionish, with, e.g. Richie trying to count to himself how many people he'd killed ("I always forget that one, ah who cares I could never do math").
I think I read that Leonard doesn't have a plot in mind when he sits down to write: he just creates the characters and watches what happens. Here, you feel you don't know how things will turn out, what will happen, and it's just great entertainment going along for the ride.
Completed : 22-Nov-2004 (audiobook)