Patti Abbott's Friday's "Forgotten" Books takes the occasional detour into a theme day focusing on one author. Today, it's Elmore Leonard's turn, and for all the books and entries, hop on over to Patti's blog for links. Elmore Leonard has penned dozens of novels and a large number of stories, garnered many awards and had his work adapted for film and television, including the series Justified, currently part of the FX Network lineup.
I chose Leonard's 1969 novel, The Moonshine War, not so much because it's one of Leonard's most popular or well-known books, but mostly due to the title and subject. Prejudice can take many forms, and I will never forget my trip to New York City some years ago when I was around 13, and a taxi driver, upon learning I was from Tennessee, sincerely wanted to know if I had a moonshine still in my back yard (and if we went barefoot a lot, but that's another story.) Moonshine holds a certain fascination with many people to this day, as evidenced by the recent Moonshiners reality-TV show on Discovery.
The "war" of the book's title refers to the days of Prohibition in the back hills of Kentucky that pits a hell-raising country boy named Son Martin against a gang of city slickers hoping to to steal thousands of dollars worth of homemade whiskey made by Son's father. The gang is hired by Martin's old war buddy, Frank Long, now a crooked prohibition agent, who was willing to look the other way in exchange for a percentage of Son's business. But when Son wouldn't play ball, Long called in the big guns in the form of Dr. Taulbee, who is not afraid to use violent methods such as busting up the stills of Son's neighbors. But after Taulbee and his goons go too far by committing a double murder, Long decides to help Son fend off the gang.
The Moonshire War is something of a crossbreed between Leonard's westerns and his crime fiction, but it has Leonard's trademark tough outlaws, sharp dialogue, twist ending, and he sets up the stakes in a concise, sharp way:
People did crazy things where whiskey was concerned. It being against the law to drink wasn't going to stop anybody. They'd fight and shoot each other and go to prison and die for it...
Like many of Leonard's books and stories, The Moonshire War was adapted to the screen in the form of a 1970 movie directed by Richard Quine and starring Alan Alda as Son Martin, Patrick McGoohan as Frank Long, and Richard Widmark as Dr. Taulbee.