A review of Unknown Man Number 89 by Elmore Leonard

Reviewed by Paul Kane

Unknown Man Number 89
By Elmore Leonard
Orion Books, March 2006.

This is a reissue of an Elmore Leonard novel that was originally published in 1977. Leonard’s hero this time out is Jack Ryan, a process server whose job is to locate people and serve them with legal papers. Here, Ryan is given an unusual assignment: to trace the whereabouts of a guy who had disappeared some 35 years previously. It turns out to be rather more dangerous than he bargained for, for others are looking for the man too. And they carry guns.

This is a crime novel that has some fine deadpan humour, a poignant romance – Ryan falls for a young woman who has problems with the bottle – and also has elements of the Western. Ryan is a kind of latter-day bounty hunter.

We get this writer’s trademark mastery of a sort of street-wise American idiom, and there’s a confiding tone to much of the writing too: Leonard tells the story by telling you about the characters. It’s a story that is more gritty, downbeat and sombre than some of Leonard’s later novels.

About the reviewer:Paul Kane lives and works in Manchester, England. He welcomes responses to his reviews and you can reach him at ludic@europe.com