20 Best Elmore Leonard Books of All Time – Reading Guide

Get ready to dive into the thrilling world of Elmore Leonard with our ultimate reading guide on the “Best Elmore Leonard Books of All Time.” As you explore his invigorating novels, you’ll be captivated by their gritty realism, razor-sharp dialogue, and unforgettable characters.

20 Best Elmore Leonard Books of All Time - Reading Guide

Elmore Leonard is an American novelist and screenwriter who is a true master of crime fiction. His writing career blossomed in the 1950s and continued until his passing in 2013. Leonard’s uncanny ability to write authentic dialogue and minimalist prose earned him the well-deserved title of “The Dickens of Detroit.”

Out of Sight

Out of Sight: A Novel

In Elmore Leonard’s 1996 novel “Out of Sight,” bank robber Jack Foley masterminds a prison break from Florida’s Glades Prison, only to encounter shotgun-wielding U.S. Marshal Karen Sisco. Forced to share a cramped trunk during the getaway, the two discover their shared love for classic Hollywood movies amidst the tension. 

As Karen plots her escape, Foley finds himself missing her, setting the stage for a captivating story of chemistry, crime, and passion. This thrilling tale follows the unlikely duo as they navigate their electrifying connection in a world of danger and intrigue.

Fire in the Hole

Fire in the Hole: Stories (Raylan Givens Book 4)

In “Fire in the Hole,” U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens returns to his Eastern Kentucky hometown to confront Boyd Crowder, a white supremacist planning to bomb a Cincinnati IRS building. As they navigate their shared history, both grapple with shifting loyalties and danger. 

Elmore Leonard’s novella delivers high-octane action, razor-sharp dialogue, and complex characters, showcasing his mastery of traditional and digital storytelling. 

Rum Punch

Rum Punch: A Novel

Dive into “Rum Punch,” an exhilarating crime novel set in South Florida’s vibrant cities, West Palm Beach and Miami. Follow Jackie Burke, a 44-year-old stewardess, as she smuggles illegal cash from Jamaica for small-time gunrunner and aspiring crime boss Ordell Robbie. Dwelve as Jackie navigates through this high-stakes world of crime, deceit, and danger.

Get Shorty

Get Shorty: A Novel

Discover the thrilling Chili Palmer series packed with action, mystery, and excitement in two captivating books. “Get Shorty,” the first book and inspiration for the 1995 crime comedy film, follows Florida mob loan shark Chili Palmer on a wild Hollywood adventure. 

While chasing a deadbeat client to Tinseltown, Chili takes matters into his own hands and decides to make movies. Characters like Chili demonstrate Leonard’s exceptional mastery in creating extraordinary and unforgettable protagonists.


Pronto: A Novel (Raylan Givens Book 1)

Discover the world of “Pronto,” the first novel in the Raylan Givens series. The lives of three distinct characters–Harry, a nostalgic World War II veteran; Tommy, an old-time gangster buff; and Raylan, a cowboy-hat-wearing U.S. Marshal–interweave against the picturesque backdrop of Rapallo, Italy. 

Adapted into a 1997 TV movie and inspiring the hit series “Justified,” “Pronto” promises an unforgettable journey and experience.

Riding the Rap

Riding the Rap: A Novel (Raylan Givens Book 2)

In “Riding the Rap,” the thrilling sequel to Leonard’s “Pronto,” WWII veteran and bookie Harry Arno reappears alongside ex-girlfriend Joyce Patton and her new beau, relentless law enforcer Raylan Givens. 

This explosive tale of a Florida kidnap caper gone awry features devious characters, including a green-thumbed enforcer, a Bahamian villain, and the greed-driven psychic Reverend Dawn. With ingenious plot twists and razor-sharp dialogue, “Riding the Rap” delivers a gripping, unforgettable crime fiction experience.

The Hot Kid

The Hot Kid

The Hot Kid” introduces Carl Webster, a lawman who began his career in crime-fighting at the young age of fifteen. Set during the Great Depression in 1920s Oklahoma, the novel follows Carl’s gripping encounters with bank robberies, car chases, and violence. As a deputy United States marshal, he faces off against notorious gunman Emmet Long and his accomplice, an oil millionaire’s son. 

This action-packed story showcases Leonard’s mastery of crime novels while exploring the dynamic rivalry between Carl and his adversaries.


Stick: A Novel

Join ex-con Ernest “Stick” Stickley on a wild ride through the gritty underworld of crooked Miami filled with investment fat cats and lowlife drug dealers in Elmore Leonard’s classic noir masterpiece “Stick.”

After being targeted by a vengeful player, Stick faces a difficult choice. Either return to a dangerous game he left or face the consequences. Tempted by the criminal underworld, Stick agrees to a lucrative revenge scam. Success isn’t guaranteed as he wrestles with his inner demons. Will Stick triumph or become a victim of the treacherous world of crime?


Swag: A Novel

In “Swag,” used car salesman Frank Ryan joins forces with car thief Ernest “Stick” Stickley, Jr. to execute a series of armed robberies. Adhering to the Ten Golden Rules for success, the duo initially flourishes, targeting supermarkets, bars, and other establishments. However, as rules begin to falter, their plan disintegrates, leading to disastrous consequences.


Labrava: A Novel

LaBrava” follows Joe LaBrava, a former IRS officer and Secret Service agent who turns to photography and captures the soul of Miami’s street life. When his friend Maury enlists Joe’s help with an ex-film star problem, he dives into a world of colorful characters and danger. 

With authentic dialogue and vibrant descriptions, Leonard masterfully weaves a story where cinematic illusion meets reality. 

Be Cool

Be Cool: A Novel

Chili Palmer, the protagonist from “Get Shorty,” returns with a new venture in “Be Cool.” As a movie producer seeking another hit, Chili meets with a record company executive, only to witness his murder. The story shifts to reel life as Chili discovers an ambitious singer, Linda Moon, and her protective manager. 

As Chili ventures into the dangerous world of music production, he encounters unexpected twists, including a corpse at his desk, making for a thrilling read.

Tishomingo Blues

Tishomingo Blues

Set in Tunica, Mississippi, “Tishomingo Blues” follows a Civil War reenactment of the 1864 battle that was interrupted by warring drug gangs. The story introduces two unlikely allies as they navigate the treacherous world of the Dixie Mafia and the high-stakes historical event. 

Tishomingo Blues is Leonard’s favorite among his works as it explores the dangerous intersection of crime and history.


Raylan: A Novel (Raylan Givens Book 3)

This book focuses on US Deputy Marshal “Raylan” Givens, who faces Kentucky’s growing marijuana trade and the dangerous Crowe brothers. As the body business becomes lucrative, Raylan must navigate a world of powerful female adversaries, including a nurse harvesting kidneys, a ruthless coal-mine executive, and a skilled poker player. With his signature dark humor and sly suspense, Leonard delivers a captivating crime thriller featuring fast-paced action and sparkling dialogue.


Hombre: A Novel

Hombre,” tells the story of a diverse group traveling by stagecoach to Bisbee, Arizona, who were confronted by robbers seeking a fortune embezzled by Dr. Alexander Favor. John Russell, a white man raised by Apaches, steps up to lead the passengers to safety from the harsh desert, despite their prejudices against him. Set in Arizona mining country, “Hombre” is a thrilling tale of survival, betrayal, and the true nature of civilization.

52 Pickup

52 Pickup: A Novel

In the heart-stopping thriller “52 Pickup,” we meet Detroit businessman Harry Mitchell. Blackmailed by ruthless criminals who have photographic proof of his extramarital affair, Harry refuses to be their prey. With twists and turns at every corner, witness the ultimate game of cat and mouse as Harry seeks vengeance against his tormentors. Get ready for an adrenaline-fueled ride as personal strength, deception, and retribution collide in this engrossing story.

Cat Chaser

Cat Chaser: A Novel

In “Cat Chaser,” George Moran, a retired US soldier, and former Marine, runs a small beachfront motel in Miami. Haunted by memories of the Dominican Republic intervention, he searches for Luci Palma, a Dominican woman who saved his life and gave him his nickname. Along the way, he becomes entangled with Mary DeBoya, the wealthy and unhappy wife of a sadistic former Dominican general. 

As Moran gets drawn into a plot by fellow military veteran Nolen Tyner and ex-New York policeman Jiggs Scully to steal from the general, he finds himself navigating a series of double-crosses. Amidst the danger, Moran and Mary strive to secure her freedom and escape with $2 million of the general’s money. Adapted into a film by Abel Ferrara, this gripping tale weaves together themes of love, betrayal, and the quest for redemption.


Killshot: A Novel

Killshot” is another thrilling story by Leonard that follows a suburban couple Wayne, and Carmen Colson, who inadvertently cross paths with deranged hitmen Armand “the Blackbird” Degas and Richie Nix. After foiling the criminals’ extortion attempt, the couple becomes their target, leading them into the Witness Protection Program. Despite efforts to stay safe, they ultimately face a nerve-wracking final confrontation with the vengeful killers. 

Showcasing Leonard’s signature strengths—sharp dialogue, captivating villains, and ironic social commentary—this novel also highlights the deep bond between Wayne and Carmen, making it one of his most memorable works.

Maximum Bob

Maximum Bob

Maximum Bob” follows Florida judge Bob Gibbs, known for handing down harsh sentences, making him a target for revenge-seeking felons. The colorful cast includes Kathy Baker, a probation officer; Leanne, the judge’s wife; the low-rent Crowe family; and a menacing alligator. 

This novel entwines dark humor, eccentric personalities, and gripping suspense as Judge Gibbs concocts a bizarre scheme involving an alligator to rid himself of his spiritually-inclined wife, setting off a series of unpredictable events.

Pagan Babies

Pagan Babies: A Novel

In “Pagan Babies,” Leonard delivers a high-octane crime fiction novel that begins amidst the harrowing aftermath of the Rwandan civil war. Terry Dunn, a former priest with a questionable past, escapes to Rwanda to avoid a tax-fraud indictment in Detroit. Upon his return, he attempts to raise money for Rwandan orphans by getting involved with an undercover mobster. 

As events unfold, Dunn crosses paths with Debbie Dewey, a recently released ex-con turned stand-up comic seeking her form of justice. Together, they plan a bigger payoff than either could achieve alone, but suspicions arise as to whether Father Terry is orchestrating a con.

Freaky Deaky

Freaky Deaky: A Novel

Freaky Deaky” is a fast-paced tale featuring two thrill-seeking former hippies, Robin Abbott and Skip Gibbs, who use their expertise in explosives to pursue revenge and a big score. Their target is Woody, an alcoholic millionaire, and his younger brother Mark, both college acquaintances from their time in Michigan. 

As their explosive plot unravel, they inadvertently draw the attention of Chris Mankowski, a former bomb squad detective who comes to the aid of a rape victim. With connections to the characters from his college days, Mankowski finds himself entangled in this dangerous web of vengeance and greed.

Final Thoughts 

Elmore Leonard’s exceptional storytelling, memorable characters, and mastery of dialogue have earned him a well-deserved reputation as one of the greatest crime fiction writers of all time. His novels, including “Out of Sight,” “Get Shorty,” “Pagan Babies, and many others, showcase his unique ability to craft gripping narratives with complex plots and dark humor. 

This reading guide offers a glimpse into the world of Leonard’s most celebrated works, providing both seasoned fans and newcomers with hours of immersive entertainment. Delving into the best Elmore Leonard books promises an unforgettable journey through the thrilling, dangerous, and often morally ambiguous universe he created.


Who to read if you like Elmore Leonard?

If you enjoy Elmore Leonard’s writing, consider exploring the works of these authors, who share similar styles and themes in their crime fiction novels:

Lou Berney – Berney’s crime novels, like “The Long and Faraway Gone” and “November Road,” combine character-driven narratives with thought-provoking themes and suspenseful twists.

George V. Higgins – With a focus on dialogue-driven narratives, Higgins’ crime novels like “The Friends of Eddie Coyle” and “Cogan’s Trade” skillfully portray gritty underworlds and complex characters.

Which of Elmore Leonard’s novels from 1976 is about a crew of armed robbers?

Swag, a crime novel by Elmore Leonard, was first published in 1976.

What book inspired Justified?

The television series “Justified” is inspired by Elmore Leonard’s short story “Fire in the Hole,” which features the character U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens.

What book did Elmore Leonard write in 1961?

Elmore Leonard’s “Hombre” was published in 1961. It is a Western novel that tells the story of John Russell, a white man raised by Apaches, who becomes involved in a stagecoach robbery and must use his survival skills to protect the passengers from the robbers.

What is the genre of Elmore Leonard’s work?

Elmore Leonard’s work primarily falls under the crime fiction genre.

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Elvira Lagud