Martin Amis has likened Elmore Leonard to Charles Dickens, but I doubt "Mr. Paradise" was the book to spawn the comparison. Leonard's writing can range from hilarious to just-plain cool, but in his latest novel he seems content to alternate between boring and forced. Leonard's prose is snappy as always, but it's like a high school kid who knows how to mix a good martini-you can't help but admire the facility, but something seems to be missing.... What's mostly missing in "Mr. Paradise" is a plot.
In fact, the plot is so stripped down that I can hardly even gloss it here, for fear of spoiling it-suffice it to say there are two very desirable, shallow, and available young woman, an identity switch, a murder, and a hard-boiled, widowed, sensitive-on-the-inside-cop...wait, wait. I may have already said too much.
Leonard's characterizations (which, at times in the past, have been cuttingly sharp) are deader on the page here than the book's corpus delicti (one of the aforementioned women whose identity is switched, said switching being, as a plot maneuver, incredibly facile, but as a make-the-reader-confused maneuver it works wonders-the two women are entirely indistinguishable in character and affect (actually, this stays pretty much the same even after one of them is dead). Maybe Leonard is making a trenchant critique of the interchangeability spawned by our consumer culture, but somehow I doubt it. If so, how come the reeking-of-authorial-avatar cop falls so hard for one? (No you dirty birds, not the dead one! (although, come to think of it, that would have gone a long way toward jazzing up the plot).
Couple all that with the fact that Elmore Leonard, while he maybe has a handle on cop culture (though I kind of doubt it) just doesn't sound right throwing around terms like "do rag" (neither, in case you're worried I'm getting confused about authorial intent, does his main character). The following conversation, between supposedly-very-dangerous bad guy Montel and fiery-but-cool young Kelley made me cringe in the way I cringe when my parents say "cool."
"We're both in style, huh?" (he) pulled the legs of his pants out to each side. "Diesel, one twenty-nine." Kelley pulled the legs of her pants to each side and said "Catherine Malandrino, six-seventy-five. But yours aren't bad." (162)
Would even the most fashionable foes really compare pants-price during a high-tension face-off? Maybe not, but it sure sounds cool, doesn't it? In the end, Leonard overdoes it in the smooth department. What's all that smoothness hiding, anyway? Maybe the fact that he's used up all his effective gags, and he's flat out of inspiration.