The Big Bounce

The Big Bounce

by Elmore Leonard


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“The greatest crime writer of our time, perhaps ever!”
New York Times Book Review

When the all-time greats of mystery/noir/crime fiction are mentioned (John D. MacDonald, Dashiell Hammett, James M. Cain, Robert Parker, etc.), Elmore Leonard’s name invariably tops the list. A true Leonard classic, The Big Bounce showcases all of the Grand Master’s acclaimed skills—twisty plotting, unforgettable characters, dialogue so razor sharp it could draw blood—as he chronicles the misadventures of a larcenous young man in a Michigan resort town who’s irresistibly drawn to a dangerous femme fatale, a rich man’s plaything, and the nasty little caper they plan to pull off together—if they can somehow manage to survive each other. The acclaimed creator of Raylan (aka U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens, lately of TV’s smash hit Justified), Leonard has never lost the mojo that makes him “the King Daddy of crime writers” (Seattle Times).

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780062184283
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 04/10/2012
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 504,963
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Elmore Leonard has written more than forty books during his highly successful writing career, including the bestsellers Road Dogs, Up in Honey's Room, The Hot Kid, Mr. Paradise, Tishomingo Blues, and the critically acclaimed collection of short stories When the Women Come Out to Dance. Many of his books have been made into movies, including Get Shorty, Out of Sight, and Be Cool. Justified, the hit series from FX, is based on Leonard's character Raylan Givens, who appears in Riding the Rap, Pronto, the short story "Fire in the Hole," and Raylan. Leonard is the recipient of the National Book Foundation's Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, the Lifetime Achievement Award from PEN USA, and the Grand Master Award of the Mystery Writers of America. He lives in Bloomfield Village, Michigan.


Bloomfield Village, Michigan

Date of Birth:

October 11, 1925

Place of Birth:

New Orleans, Louisiana


B.Ph., University of Detroit, 1950

Read an Excerpt

They were watching Ryan beat up the Mexican crew leader on 16mm Commercial Ektachrome. Three of them in the basement room of the Holden County courthouse: the assistant county prosecutor, who had brought the film; a uniformed officer from the sheriff's department operating the projector; and Mr. Walter Majestyk, the justice of the peace from Geneva Beach.

Right now they were watching Ryan holding the softball bat, bringing it up to his shoulder and not taking his eyes from Luis Camacho, who was beyond him on the screen, crouched and edging to the side but gradually, it seemed, closing in on Ryan.

"The guy's doing a movie on migrant workers," the assistant prosecutor said. "He happens to be there, he gets the whole thing."

"There was a picture in the paper," Mr. Majestyk said.

"The same guy. He ran out of movie film and started shooting with his Rollei."

On the screen Ryan was moving with Camacho, following him closely; he seemed about to swing, starting to come through with it. Camacho lunged and pulled back; Ryan checked his swing and chopped, and the assistant prosecutor said, "Hold it there."

The sheriff's patrolman flicked a switch on the projector and the action on the screen stopped, slightly out of focus.

"Do you see a knife?"

"He's behind him," Mr. Majestyk said. "You can't tell."

The action continued, coming into focus: Camacho still edging, holding his left arm tight to his side, and Ryan moving with him. Ryan was raising the bat again, his hands coming back to his shoulder, and the assistant prosecutor said, "Right there. The one that broke his jaw."

The stopped-action on the screen showed Ryancoming through with the bat, stepping with the swing, body twisting and arm muscles tight and straight and wrists turning as he laid the bat against the side of Luis Camacho's face. The face did not resemble a human face but a wood-carved face, an Aztec doll face without eyes or before the eyes were painted in. Camacho's wraparound hellcat sunglasses were hanging in space but still hooked to one ear, and though the framing of the picture did not show his lower legs, Camacho seemed to be off the ground hunch-shouldered, suspended in air.

"Larry," the assistant prosecutor said to the sheriff's patrolman, "keep that but give me some light. Walter, I want to read you Luis Camacho's statement."

The overhead fluorescent light washed the sharpness and detail from the figures on the screen, but the action remained clear. Mr. Majestyk, the justice of the peace from Geneva Beach, blinked twice as the light came to full brightness but kept his eyes on Jack Ryan.

"He gives his name," the assistant prosecutor began, "and when it happened, July twenty-sixth, about seven p.m., and then Officer J. R. Coleman says: 'Tell us in your own words what happened.' Walter, you listening?"

"Sure, go on."

"Camacho: 'After supper I went out to the bus and waited, as Ryan had promised to do some repair work on it for me. When he did not appear, I looked for him and found him in the field where some of the men and kids were playing baseball. The men had some beer and most of them were playing baseball. Ryan was with them, though he wasn't playing. There were some girls there Ryan was talking to. I asked him why he was not fixing the bus and he said something back that is unprintable. I reminded him that servicing the bus was part of his job, but he told me again to do the unprintable thing. One reason--"

"Excuse me," Mr. Majestyk said. "Larry, are those the words the guy used?"

The sheriff's officer hesitated. "They're, you know, writing words, the way you write it in a report."

"What'd Ryan tell him?"

"To go bag his ass."

"What's unprintable about that?"

"Walter--" The assistant prosecutor was looking at Mr. Majestyk, marking his place with the tip of his ballpoint pen. "Camacho goes on to say: 'One reason I allowed him to join my crew in San Antonio was because he said he was a mechanic and could fix the bus if it broke down. I hired him but was suspicious because I believed all he wanted was a free trip as far as Detroit--'"

"He's from Detroit?" Mr. Majestyk seemed surprised.

"From Highland Park," the assistant prosecutor said. "The same thing. So then Camacho says: 'When I asked him again to fix the bus, he picked up the bat and told me to get out of there or he would knock my head off. I told him to put down the bat and we would settle this, but he came at me with it. Before I could defend myself or disarm him, he struck me in the arm and in the face.'" The assistant prosecutor paused. "That's the part, Walter. Listen. 'Before I could defend myself or disarm him--'"

"He got flattened," Mr. Majestyk said.

"'--he struck me in the arm and in the face. I fell to the ground but was not unconscious. I remember many of the people there looking down at me. When the police came, they called an ambulance and I was taken to the hospital at Holden, Michigan.'" The assistant prosecutor went on, reading it faster. "'This statement is sworn to before witnesses and bears my signature that all facts related are true and took place as I have described them.'" The assistant prosecutor straightened, looking at the Geneva Beach justice of the peace. "Walter, what do you think?"

Mr. Majestyk nodded, looking at the washed-out image on the screen. "I think he's got a level swing, but maybe he pulls too much."

Bob Rogers Jr. didn't bring Ryan's pay envelope until almost half past eleven Sunday morning. He told J.R. Coleman, the sheriff's officer on duty, what it was and who it was for and Coleman said he thought it was supposed to have been dropped off yesterday; they were waiting to get rid of this guy Ryan. Bob Jr. said he was busy yesterday and that another day in jail wasn't going to hurt Ryan any. He left the envelope on the counter and went out adjusting his curled-brim straw cowboy hat, loosening it on his head and setting it straight as he walked down the courthouse steps and across the street to the dark green pickup truck. He'd have about fifteen minutes to wait, so he U-turned and drove up Holden's main street to Rexall's and bought a pack of cigarettes and the big Sunday edition of the Detroit Free Press. By the time Bob Jr. got back to the courthouse, U-turning north again and pulling up in the no parking zone, he figured they'd be just about now giving Ryan his shoelaces and telling him to take off.

"Sign it at the bottom," J.R. Coleman said. He waited until Ryan had signed the form before he took Ryan's wallet, belt, and pay envelope out of a wire basket and laid them on the counter.

When Ryan opened the wallet and began counting the three one-dollar bills inside, J.R. Coleman gave him a no-expression look and kept staring while Ryan worked his belt through the loops of his khaki pants and buckled it and shoved the wallet into his back pocket. Ryan picked up the pay envelope then and looked at it.

"That's from the company. They dropped it off," J.R. Coleman told him.

"It isn't sealed."

"It wasn't sealed when they brought it."

Ryan read the pay period and the amount typed on the envelope. He pulled out the bills and counted fifty-seven dollars.

"That'll get you home," J.R. Coleman said. "Two blocks up's the Greyhound station."

Ryan folded the envelope and put it in his shirt pocket. He hesitated then and began feeling his pants pockets, his gaze moving over the counter surface. As he looked up at J.R. Coleman he said, "I had a comb."

"There isn't any comb here."

"I know there isn't. Why would anybody want to swipe a comb?"

"You didn't have a comb."

"No, I had one. I always have a comb."

"If it isn't here, you never had one."

"You can buy a new comb for ten cents," Ryan said. "A clean one. Why would anybody steal somebody else's comb?"

J.R. Coleman said, "I'll put you on the bus myself if you want me to."

"That's all right," Ryan said. "I'll see you."

"You better not," J.R. Coleman said.

Bob Rogers Jr. waited for Ryan to spot the pickup truck. He couldn't miss it with the white-lettered sign on the door: RITCHIE FOODS, INC., GENEVA BEACH, MICH. But Ryan was looking around, up at the trees and up the street, acting casual as he came down the courthouse steps. Bob Jr. sat with his elbow out the window. As Ryan approached the truck Bob Jr. adjusted his straw cowboy hat, raising the funneled brim and squaring it over his eyes, then laid his wrist over the top of the steering wheel, resting it there. He knew Ryan was going to open the door and he let him do it, let him get that far.

"You wanted a ride somewhere?"

Ryan looked up at him. "You're going north, aren't you?"

"That's right," Bob Jr. said. "But you're going south. One hundred and fifty miles due south to Detroit."

"I thought I'd get my gear first."

"You don't need your gear. All you need's a bus ticket. Or go over cross the street and stick your thumb out."

Ryan looked up the street north, frowning in the sunlight, at the stores lining the street and the cars angle-parked in front. He looked at Bob Jr. again and said, "You got a cigarette?"

"No, I don't."

"What's the square thing in your pocket?"

"That's a square thing in my pocket," Bob Jr. said.

"Well, I'll see you." Ryan slammed the door and started along the sidewalk.

Bob Jr. watched him. He waited until Ryan was almost to the corner before flicking the column shift with the tip of his finger and edging along close to the curb, his hands resting lightly on the thin steering wheel. When he was even with Ryan, he said, "Hey, boy, I wasn't finished talking to you." He rolled past him before stopping so Ryan would have to come up to him.

"I want to tell you something."

"Go ahead."

"Come here a little closer, I don't have to shout." Bob Jr. folded the Sunday paper next to him and leaned toward the window with his arm on the backrest of the seat.

"What?" Ryan said.

"Listen, the two weeks you lived with the spiks we never did talk much, did we?"

"I don't guess we did."

"That's right. So you don't know me, do you?"

Ryan shook his head, waiting.

"We never talked because I couldn't think of any reason I needed to talk to you," Bob Jr. said. "But I'll tell you something now. Go on home. I'll tell you it for your own good, because if you're not a white man, at least you look like a white man and I'll give you that much credit."

Ryan kept his mouth shut, staring at the grown man with the cowboy hat down over his eyes, the farm-hick Geneva Beach hot dog with the big arms and thirty pounds and maybe ten more years of experience on his side. And a pure white forehead, Ryan was thinking, if he ever took that dumb hat off. He had never seen Bob Jr. without the hat.

"You don't work for me no more," Bob Jr. was saying, "so legally you don't have to do what I tell you. But I'll give you the best reason I know for clearing out as quick as you can. You know what it is?"

Jesus Christ, Ryan thought. He said, "No. What?"

"Lou Camacho." Bob Jr. paused to let it sink in. "You don't beat up a crew leader in front of his men. He finds out you're still here, he'll have somebody stick a knife in you so fast you won't even feel it go in."

"I hadn't thought of that," Ryan said.

"That happens and I'm up to my ass in so many sheriff's cops and state police, I don't get my cucumbers in till Christmas," Bob Jr. said. "You see what I mean?"

Ryan nodded. "I hadn't thought of the cucumbers, either."

"It's the reason you're a free man today," Bob Jr. said.

Ryan nodded again. "I see."

And Bob Jr. kept staring at him. "No, you don't see. You're too dumb. But I'll tell you," Bob Jr. said. "Ritchie Foods got you loose because Ritchie Foods makes pickles. They make sweet pickles and dills and hamburger slices and those little gerkins. They put the pickles in jars and sell them. But, boy, what they don't put in jars and sell are cucumbers. Big grown cucumbers. That means they got to get the cucumbers picked before they're full-grown. That means they got to hurry this time of year to get the crop in. But they ain't going to get it in with the goddamn pickers sitting around in any goddamn courtroom. You see it now?"

"Well, the quicker I get my gear, the quicker I'm gone." Ryan smiled his down-home smile for Bob Jr. "So why don't you give me a lift to the camp? I mean if you're going that way."

Bob Jr. shook his head to show what an effort it was getting through to this guy. He said finally, "All right. You pick up your stuff and take off. Right?"

"Yes, sir." Ryan grinned. "Thanks a lot."

On the way he read the front page of the Sunday funnies--Dick Tracy and Peanuts; Bob Jr. wouldn't let him open the paper and mess it up; he said he was taking it to Mr. Ritchie. It didn't matter to Ryan. It was only about six miles up to the camp, off the highway to the left. He wondered if Bob Jr. was going to drop him off and go on into Geneva Beach--another two miles north, where the highway ended abruptly on Lake Huron--but Bob Jr. made his turn at the gravel road that went in to the camp, maintaining his speed and holding tighter to keep the pickup from sliding in the ruts. That was all right too. Let him show off if he wanted. Ryan felt good. When something was over, it always felt good. After seven days in the Holden jail, even the cucumber fields, spreading into the distance on both sides of the road, looked good. He could relax, take his time; wash up, get his stuff together, and walk back to the highway. By four or five this afternoon he should be in Detroit. He started thinking about what he'd do when he got home. Take a hot shower and eat, maybe go out after and have a few beers. Maybe just go to bed in a real bed for a change.

Up ahead now he could see the company buildings. They reminded him of a picture he'd seen in Life of a deserted World War II Army post--the weathered barracks and washhouse and latrines in a hard-packed clearing; gray walls standing beyond their time; boarded windows or pushed-out screens and old newspapers and candy wrappers caught in the weeds that grew close to the buildings. It was funny he didn't see any kids in the road. There were always kids. Not many grown people outside unless they were coming in or going out to the fields, but there were always kids; hundreds of them, it seemed like, among the eighty-seven families living here this season. He remembered then it was Sunday. The kids would be at Mass or getting ready for it or hiding out in the woods somewhere.

That was it. He saw people now crossing from the shacks to the elm trees that lined the left side of the road. The priest who came on Sunday always set up his card-table altar in the elm shade. He'd park his Olds over there off the road and put his vestments on behind the car while a couple of the women dressed the card table with a white cloth and a crucifix and the priest's missal.

"Right here," Ryan said.

"Which one?"

"The shed."

Bob grinned as he braked, looking back through the rear window. "The bachelor quarters." He let Ryan out, saying, "Remember, now--"

Ryan walked back toward the shed. He heard the pickup starting off and a moment later heard the squeal of brakes as it stopped again, but Ryan didn't look around. He'd seen enough of the hot dog and heard enough of him and as far as he was concerned, Bob Jr. was gone forever. He opened the door of the shed and went into the mildew-smelling gloom of the place. It had once housed machinery or equipment; now there were newspapers spread over the dirt floor and the papers covered with pieces of burlap and an old straw rug. Three of them had lived in here. Now Billy Ruiz and Frank Pizarro could have it to themselves. He was glad they weren't here.

With the door open the first thing Ryan saw was the picture of himself on the wall clipped from the Free Press and pinned there between Al Kaline and Tony Oliva: Ryan holding the bat and Luis Camacho on the ground. The caption said:


A difference of opinion resulted in Jack C. Ryan putting the word to Luis Camacho, crew leader of a group of migrant cucumber pickers from Texas this month working in the fields of Michigan's Thumb area. Luis Camacho has been hospitalized. Ryan has been arraigned on a charge of felonious assault and is awaiting examination.

And something else about the guy making the movie who happened to be there, but Ryan didn't read the rest. He took off his shirt going over to his cot. His soap and safety razor were on a wall shelf; he picked them up in one hand, laid a towel over his shoulder, and went outside again.

The pickup was still in the road. Bob Jr. was out of it, beyond the front end and standing at the driver's side of a dark green Lincoln convertible pointing this way. Ryan had never seen the car with the top down before or--walking past the truck now--he had never seen it this close. Before it had always been a dark green car in the distance trailing dust. In the field they would straighten up over the cucumber plants; somebody would say, "There goes Mr. Ritchie," and they would stare after the car until it was gone.

Coming up past the truck, he got a good look at Mr. Ritchie--not a bad-looking guy, about forty-five, sunglasses and a high, tan forehead, his dark hair starting to go. Then he was looking at the girl next to Mr. Ritchie with the big round Audrey Hepburn sunglasses; she was reading the Sunday funnies and as Ryan watched her she moved her dark hair away from her face with the tip of one finger: straight dark hair and long, down past her shoulders. She looked young enough to be Mr. Ritchie's daughter, but for some reason Ryan knew she wasn't.

Mr. Ritchie and Bob Jr. were watching him and now, one hand on the doorsill and the other on his hip, Bob Jr. gave a little side-motion jerk of his head to call Ryan over. He could hear music coming from the Lincoln convertible and off beyond them in the elm shade he could see the priest in green vestments and the people kneeling before the card-table altar.

Bob Jr. said, "Mr. Ritchie wants me to remind you you're not needed around here anymore."

"I'm going as soon as I clean up." He was aware of the girl looking up from the funnies on her lap, but he kept his eyes on Bob Jr. Then, when Mr. Ritchie spoke, he turned a little--with the towel over his shoulder and holding the end of it in front of him--to let the girl see his arm, the slim brown muscle bunched tight against the side of his chest.

"You're not a picker, are you?" Mr. Ritchie asked him.

"Not until a few weeks ago."

"Why'd you join them?"

"I needed something to do."

"Weren't you working in Texas?"

"I was playing ball for a while."


"Yes, sir, that's what you play in the summer."

Mr. Ritchie stared at him. "I understand you've been arrested before," he said then. "For what?"

"Well, one time resisting arrest." Ryan paused.

Mr. Ritchie said, "What else?"

"Another time B and E."

"What's B and E?" the girl said.

He looked right at her now, at the nice nose and the big round sunglasses and the dark hair hanging close to her face.

"Breaking and Entering," Bob Jr. said.

The girl kept her eyes on Ryan. She said, "Oh," and again brushed aside her hair

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Big Bounce 2.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
Goodwillbooks on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is older EL from 1969, which I actually prefer to his later, more "commercial" material. This story concerns Jack Ryan, recently released from prison, and his entanglement with his former boss's mistress, and her idea to heist the boss's $50,000 payroll (lots of money in 1969 when the book was written). Jack struggles with his attraction to her, and the wisdom of pulling the job. Under the surface, never expressed is his ongoing debate about whether to sink deeper into a life of crime or "go straight". The ending is somewhat shocking, somewhat ambiguous, and very satisfying.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
I saw the preview for the movie and thought it would be awesome. I bought the book at the airport and read it. Through all the character development I felt there would be a big ending. I was wrong. The meat of the book was great, but the ending stunk. The 2nd to last chapter is hinting to a big ending, but it doesn't. I bet the movie is better than the book!
Guest More than 1 year ago
The Big Bounce is a huge disappointment. I went into it, expecting a possible heist/con man based drama/action. Instead, I got 200 pages of character development, and an awful ending that suddenly spotlights the sub-plot of baseball that had been only in the back of your mind until then. The worst part though, is the so called 'mastermind' behind it all, who is a blonde, stupid, egotistical criminal, who justifies violence as, how leonard puts it, 'having fun'. Leonard may very well be 'The greatest crime writer of our time'(New york times book review), but this is prayerfully not his best work.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Out of everything I've read by Elmore Leonard, this one has been the least exciting. Action scenes are few and far between, and its hard to establish any kind of good guy/bad guy relationship. Perspective is limited and the reader is left to wonder who they should be rooting for: Jack Ryan, or the migrant workers who are going to get fleeced?