Out Of Sight by Elmore Leonard (1996)
Jack Foley had an unfortunate bust. He was caught ramming a car after having just robbed a bank. He found himself in a Florida prison looking at hard time but with a reputation as a famed bank robber to keep him relatively safe. His friend Buddy is already out and free, but their loyalties run deep. So when Jack hits upon a plan to break out, he calls upon Buddy to pick him up just outside the fence.
Of course, it doesn’t go to plan. Jack tries to piggy-back on another jail break which is taking place. He was going to use them as a distraction. It goes OK until the arrival of Deputy US Marshall, Karen Sisco. She had just pulled up outside the prison for a routine visit to another inmate when Jack made his move. He ends up with little choice but to abduct her using her own vehicle. Jack and Karen take the boot, or trunk to our North American cousins, with Buddy driving.
They meet with Glenn Michaels, another freed inmate familiar to both men but not trusted entirely. Glenn has the single job of providing a second vehicle for when they get from the prison and dump the first. Sadly, Glenn craps himself and takes off with Karen leaving Jack and Buddy to rush back to the first, known car. Prison breaks, they’re never simple!
Glenn eventually crashes his getaway vehicle and escapes. Karen is uninjured but pretty pissed off with the entire debacle. About the only positive for her, and it’s a perverse one, is that she managed to form a strange bond with Jack during their brief car ride in the boot. As Karen is a beautiful woman, and Jack is straight, he is extremely attracted to her, even when she’s gone from sight. It might become a problem for him.
Jack and Buddy make their way to Detroit to look into the possibility of a lucrative but illegal job that Glenn had mentioned to them. Glenn, on the run also, has beat them to it and is in cahoots with local crime boss and violent hood, Snoop. Whereas both Jack and Buddy are gentlemen thieves, Snoop is low down and dirty all the way. He also has some questionable accomplices that don’t fill either Jack or Buddy with confidence when they meet up to discuss terms. Everyone wants the job.
The gang are reliant upon Glenn’s intel, but Glenn (still wary of Jack and Buddy after abandoning them) is not the most thorough. Still, with the FBI, the Marshall Service and law enforcement from Florida and Michigan on their tails, they need the score, so find themselves forced to go ahead with it against their better judgement. Should have listened to their gut instincts.
Jack and Karen have a private obsession going on between them. They are both unable to stay away from one another. Karen heads to Detroit and Jack finds her there where they get it on. They make the two-backed beast during a night of requited passion but with both knowing that it won’t go anywhere. Karen is law all the way – except when she’s getting laid by a wanted bank robber and prison escapee.
Cue the big robbery. Glenn has done yet another runner. It’s down to Snoop, White Boy and Kenneth along side Jack and Buddy to carry out the home invasion of a very rich guy, except he’s not at home. Two teenagers are, though, male and female. Trouble. Kenneth is a rapist at heart and the girl is considered fair game by him. Fortunately for her, neither Jack nor Buddy feel the same way. They’re classy guys, stand-up gentlemen. It can only end in bloodshed.
Out of Sight is better known from the big screen adaptation which starred George Clooney as Jack and Jennifer Lopez as Karen. It was directed by Steven Soderbergh and released in 1998. The movie was critically acclaimed and both Clooney and Lopez were in fine form. It is also fairly true to the book although the ending is not. Buddy survives in the movie but not the book. Jack is shot in both versions but the movie adds a little addendum to the story which played nicely with audiences.
The writing in this story is typical of Elmore Leonard in that its fast, efficient and contains no extra words. It’s hip, smooth, fleet of foot and a signature of a very fine writer. Leonard is highly regarded in Hollywood with a number of his books being adapted. His slick (so many adjectives) style is attractive. His characters are consistent, his settings interesting and his plots perfectly planned. This is a very good read.
Sult scale rating: 7 out of 10. This is the kind of book that will not knock you for six, but will leave you with a feeling of satisfaction, the kind that comes from having just read a book by someone who really knows their craft. If you’ve seen the movie, it might be difficult to separate the two, Clooney and Lopez had that natural chemistry and it’s hard to see who could have played it any better. Still, the book is enjoyable regardless of comparisons and well worth the time it takes to read.