This novel about the movie business comes screenplay-ready, with dozens of exquisitely cross-cut, picture-perfect scenes, all ripe for film adaptation. It did inspire a movie, and a fine one at that. But those who seek pleasures of a bookish sort will find them here as well. The story, as a striving film-maker might spin it in a 30-second pitch: shylock” from Brooklyn by way of Miami, heads to “the Coast” and finds a home-away-from-home in La-La Land. There, after many amusing twists and several hair-raising turns, he wins the heart—and what passes for the soul—of Hollywood.
Palmer engages in criminal enterprises, as do the handful of his associates from back East who follow him to California; their quest for a bag of ill-gotten cash that Palmer took with him helps fuel Leonard‘s purring engine of a plot. But Get Shorty isn’t fundamentally a crime story. It’s a caper novel, in which several cocky, cockeyed misfits connive and scheme and double-cross each other as they pursue a grand, high-stakes goal. The goal, in this case, isn’t to pull off a bank heist. Instead, it’s to land a movie deal. Palmer thrives in the movie colony because he understands one key fact, which is that producing a film and managing a loan-shark operation are more alike than different. Both are confidence games that involve people who are scrambling to hide their insecurity—to talk their way around the gap between what they promise and what they can deliver.
Palmer’s Tinseltown odyssey also has the flavor of a picaresque tale (his romantic interest, a washed-out but studio-smart actress named Karen Flores, calls it “Chili’s Hollywood Adventure”), with the East Coast hoodlum playing the role of a “wise innocent” who charms the natives of an alien society into revealing their true selves. Leonard, with his keen ear for the way that people use speech not to convey information but to project an attitude, tells that tale by unreeling page after page of his trademark dialogue.