Friday, June 28, 2013

Forgotten Books: Escape From Five Shadows - Elmore Leonard

I've mentioned before that I prefer Elmore Leonard's Westerns to his crime novels, which puts me in the minority, I'm sure. Not that that bothers me. I've read all of Leonard's Western short stories and am working my way slowly through his Western novels.

Originally published in 1956, ESCAPE FROM FIVE SHADOWS is Leonard's third novel. It opens where a lot of novels might end: with the unjustly convicted protagonist's escape from prison. Corey Bowen, found guilty of rustling and sent to Yuma Prison, then to the work camp called Five Shadows, doesn't get away, though. He's recaptured and brought back, and that's just the beginning of a tense, low-key story that includes plenty of suspense and just enough action and romance.

As you'd expect from a novel by Elmore Leonard, even an early one, the dialogue is excellent and most of the characters can't be trusted as they play off of each other and try to gain an advantage. In addition to Corey Bowen, there are a couple of other inmates who are part of a second escape plan with him; the corrupt superintendent of the prison camp; a government official and his femme fatale wife; the beautiful daughter of a stagecoach station manager; and the Apache trackers whose job it is to go after prisoners who try to get away.

ESCAPE FROM FIVE SHADOWS is a slow burn of a novel that finally erupts in some excellent action scenes. As usual, Leonard's depiction of Arizona Territory is excellent, with the landscape almost becoming a character in its own right. If you've never read any of his Western novels, this would be a fine place to start.


Bill Crider said...

I prefer the westerns, too, though as I'm prone to say, some of the crime novels are really westerns.

George said...

I need to read more of Leonard's westerns. I've read all of his crime novels over the years.

Charles Gramlich said...

I am also in the minority with you and Bill.

Ed Gorman said...

I prefer the westerns too except for 52 Pickup and a few others. He got too facile with his crime stuff. As I said in my review of Valdez is Coming, in some books Leonard had the power to hurt you. Tome Valdez is a masterpiece.

Cap'n Bob said...

I read this one a year or two ago and agree with your analysis.