Elmore Leonard's "Rum Punch" (which was the basis of Quentin Tarantino's "Jackie Brown") is a page-turner in the truest sense of the word - it's hard to put down. Leonard's has crafted a novel with his usual ear for fantastic and witty dialogue and fast, descriptive and fluent prose. Add a well-crafted and surprising plot and we have one of Leonard's finest works.
The story revolves around Jackie Burke (changed to Jackie Brown in the film), an airline stewardess who smuggles money between locations for Ordell Robbie, an arms-dealing hot-talking crook who uses everyone he comes in contact with for his own gain. The plot takes off when Jackie is caught by the police with the money for a delivery (along with some drugs she didn't know were in there) and Ordell is forced to bail her out through a bail bondsman, Max Cherry. Jackie sets up a sting operation which has the appearance of involving everyone -- the police, Ordell, even Ordell's discontented callgirl. In the end... well, you'll have to read it for that.
What makes "Rum Punch" a pleasure to read, like all of Leonard's novels, are the fringe characters which seemingly only he could dream up. The relationship between Louis, Ordell's dim-witted and short-tempered right hand man, and Melanie, Ordell's primary callgirl, is amusing, as are scenes like Ray Nicholette's bravado-style shootout with one of Ordell's arms-shipping lackeys. Leonard also intersperses interesting bits of character introspection, things like Max Cherry's contemplation about his relationship with his wife (with whom he's separated) and Jackie's three ex-husbands (although she only usually says there's two, because two of them were so similar, even in name, that they're hard to tell apart).
The plot itself goes off without a hitch. There's nothing profound, and probably nothing new, but the execution is suspenseful and works because of the strong characters involved.
Matthew D. Johnston