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Onyx reviews: Road Dogs by Elmore Leonard

Jack Foley, perhaps the most successful bank robber ever, protagonist of Out of Sight, played by George Clooney in the film adaptation, seems to have met his Waterloo. He's facing thirty years in prison after escaping from incarceration with a federal marshal in the trunk of his getaway car. The only thing he's got going for him is a reputation that will keep the gangbangers and skinheads at Glade Correctional at arm's length.

In the van on the way to prison he befriends Cundo Rey (La Brava), a diminutive killer who has millions of dollars socked away, some of it in two Venice Beach houses. Cundo has access to the best lawyer money can buy, a barracuda who gets Foley's sentence reduced from thirty years to thirty months on appeal, racking up over $50,000 in fees in the process

Foley is sprung a few weeks ahead of his fellow road dog (a prison term for inmates who look out for each other), and is immediately tailed by Special Agent Lou Adams of the FBI, who is willing to stake his career that Foley can't go a month without robbing another bank. 

Foley, however, is more concerned about repaying the legal fees, because he doesn't want to owe Cundo. Such debts are often called at the least convenient time. Which explains why he agrees to move from Florida into one of Cundo's luxury homes pending his friend's release. It puts him out of Adams's sightline and installs him across the street from fortune teller Dawn Navarro (Riding the Rap).

For the past eight years, Dawn has been telling Cundo she's a saint every time he asks—and he asks a lot. Cundo is a jealous man, suspicious that Dawn might have been cheating on him, and he now has a buddy to keep a close eye on her.

Dawn's fidelity is the least of Cundo's worries—she has designs on his money, and has been trying to figure out the best way to liquidate his assets without getting caught. She sees in Foley a kindred soul, enlisting his help in some of her psychic scams. For his part, Foley is trying to go straight, going so far as to open a bank account, although he makes an immediate withdrawal because he can't imagine leaving a bank without a pocketful of cash.

Leonard sets up a battle of wits among three classic protagonists. For most of the book, Cundo's presence is felt more than seen, as he serves the rest of his time. Foley and Dawn fall into bed with each other, but they've both been around the block enough not to trust each other. As much as Foley likes Cundo, he doesn't trust him, either.

Foley is still cozy with his ex-wife and has a thing for Karen Sisco, the federal marshal he was accused of kidnapping. He and Dawn click immediately, and he has no trouble making one of her marks fall in love with him, too. It's easy to see George Clooney all over again.

The book is mostly about dishonor among thieves, and it's not clear for most of it who will out-con who, and who will survive. Despite the book's dark sense of humor, the characters are playing for keeps, and not all of them will make it to the final page. As with most of Leonard's books, the plot is merely a framework on which to stretch his characters, and their dialog crackles with the sound of realism that is one of Leonard's trademarks. His ability to reproduce ethnic jargon effortlessly is unparalleled.

At 83, Leonard shows no signs of slowing down. However, he's revisiting past characters in a way that is atypical of his previous 40+ novels. In addition to the primary characters, Foley's ex-wife, Karen Sisco, Harry Arno and judge Maximum Bob all make cameo appearances. 

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