November 07, 2014

Review of The Hot Kid

The Hot KidCarlos Webster was fifteen in the fall of 1921 the first time he came face-to-face with a nationally known criminal. A few weeks later, he killed his first man—a cattle thief who was rustling his dad's stock. Now Carlos, called Carl, is the hot kid of the U.S. Marshals Service, one of the elite manhunters currently chasing the likes of Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson, and Pretty Boy Floyd across America's Depression-ravaged heartland. Carl wants to be the country's most famous lawman. Jack Belmont, the bent son of an oil millionaire, wants to be public enemy number one. Tony Antonelli of True Detective magazine wants to write about this world of cops and robbers, molls and speakeasies from perilously close up. Then there are the hot dames—Louly and Elodie—hooking their schemes and dreams onto dangerous men. And before the gunsmoke clears, everybody just might end up getting exactly what he or she wished for.

Leonard at the top of his form
By Jerry Saperstein on June 6, 2005

There are writers. There are novelists. There are storytellers. And there is Elmore Leonard who seeming transcends classification.

Leonard is at his lyrical, mythmaking best here as he tells the story of a little Oklahoma boy who is robbed of his ice cream cone by a two-bit bank robber, an event that shapes his future.

Carl Webster grows to be a man and becomes a Deputy United States Marshall during the heyday of bank robbers. Dillinger, Pretty Boy Floyd, Bonny and Clyde capture the nation's attention, while J. Edgar Hoover, Melvin Purvis and--of course--Carl Webster seek their own headlines.

In a milieu of dirt-poor farmers become millionaires through the Oklahoma oil boom, whores with good hearts, a rich man's son turned bad and the muse of Tony Antonelli, crime reporter, all the stories mix and blend thanks to Leonard's gifted pen.

Each of the characters is rich and full-blooded. The scent of Oklahoma's backroads and Kansas City's opulent brothels and their denizens is strong as the trails of bandits, lawmen, rich men, demented mothers, prostitutes and demented sons cross and re-cross.

Elmore Leonard has crafted many a fine tale: but "The Hot Kid" is undoubtedly one of his best and a thoroughly satisfying read.
Native aspects

It's been a while since I read The Hot Kid, but I believe Carl is a quarter Native--probably Cherokee. His father's common-law wife is Native also.

Carl doesn't talk about himself, so his Native heritage is mostly implied. But Oklahoma was still Indian country in the 1920s, only a few years past its 1907 statehood. Carl's path may be similar to Will Rogers's, another "mixed breed" who grew up in the area.

Even if it rarely mentions Indians, The Hot Kid has a strong sense of time and place. One can see the class divide between rich and poor in the former Indian territory. If you want an entertaining inkling of what life was like then, try this book.

My only complaint about The Hot Kid was the slightly unsatisfying ending. Otherwise, I give it an 8.5 of 10.

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