I first met Elmore Leonard, who died last week, in Doubleday's bookshop on New York's Fifth Avenue. Standing alone beside the cash desk, he was signing copies of his latest novel, Glitz, and placing them on a pile of other signed copies.
With the temerity of a fan who thought him not just the best writer of contemporary American thrillers but one of the best American novelists of any kind, I approached him and we ended up having a long and very amiable chat.
A few months later, he phoned me and said he was thinking of depicting an Irish terrorist in his next novel, Bandits. So he and his wife Joan came to Dublin, where I used my newspaper contacts to put him in touch with some hardline Provos, whom he met in a pub on the quays and who gave him some inkling of their activities and mindsets.
But when he sent me the section featuring the terrorist, his usual feel for character was missing and I timidly suggested as much when I phoned him in Detroit. "Yeah, I thought so, too," he laughed. "That's why I blew him away after two chapters."
With the movie adaptations of Get Shorty, Out of Sight and Rum Punch (retitled Jackie Brown in Tarantino's brilliant and best movie), Leonard gained a huge following, but when I first met him in 1985 he was known only to diehard admirers – a New York Times reviewer had just described Stick as a brilliant first novel, even though it was Leonard's 21st.
And such is the fickleness of fashion that he's in danger of becoming little known again – on the day of his death, I found only single copies of two of his novels in Dubray Books in Dún Laoghaire, while the local Eason had none at all. There were lots, though, of James Patterson, Lee Child and Dan Brown in both shops.
Given such competition, there sadly seems no room for a true storyteller and a peerless stylist.