Executive Times






2007 Book Reviews


Up in Honey’s Room by Elmore Leonard








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Elmore Leonard reprises Carl Webster from his earlier novel, The Hot Kid, and pairs him with Honey Deal in a new novel titled, Up in Honey’s Room. Leonard soars with crisp dialogue, and the wisecracking Honey provides a great contrast to the controlled Carl. The ensemble of characters add the other Leonard hallmark: full fleshed and fascinating people. Set at the end of World War II in Detroit, some characters are German prisoners of war. Honey’s ex-husband, a butcher, is a Himmler look alike. The plot doesn’t matter much, although it drags at times. Many loyal readers love reading Leonard for his characters and their dialogue. Here’s an excerpt, before Carl arrives on the scene, from the beginning of Chapter 3, pp. 29-33:


They drove south down Woodward Avenue from Six Mile Road in a ‘41 Olds sedan, property of the FBI, Honey looking at shop windows, Kevin waiting. Finally he said, “You and Walter started seeing each other and before you knew it you fell head over heels in love?”

Honey was taking a pack of Luckys from her black leather bag, getting one out, and using a Zippo she flicked once to light the cigarette.

“That’s what happened,” Honey said, “I fell in love with Walter because he’s such a swell guy, kind and considerate, fun to be with.” She handed the cigarette to Kevin, a trace of lipstick on the tip.

Now she was lighting another, Kevin glancing at Honey in her trench coat and black beret, pulled low on her blond hair and slightly to one side, the way girls in spy movies wore their berets. Honey was a new experience for him.

She said, “The whole time we talked, you know you didn’t once call me by my name? Which one do you have a problem with, Honey or Miss Deal?”

He was aware of it and said, “Well, if I called you ‘Honey’ it would sound like, you know, we’re going together.”

“My friends at work call me Honey. I’m not going with any of them. The day I was born my dad picked me up and said, ‘Here’s my little honey,’ and loved me so much I was christened Honey. The priest said, ‘You can’t call her that. There’s no St. Honey in the Catholic Church.’ My dad said, ‘There is now. Christen her Honey or we’re turning Baptist.” She said, “You want to know something? Walter never asked where I got the name.”

“Did you tell him?”

“We’re coming to Blessed Sacrament,” Honey said, “where Walter and I met. It was after eleven o’clock Mass. Yeah, I told him but he didn’t make anything of it. He called me Honig, if he called me anything.”

“You took that as a good sign, meeting at church?”

“I think it was the only reason Walter went to Mass, to meet a girl with golden hair. He stopped going once he had me, and I stopped since we were living in sin, not married in the Church.”

“You believe that, you were living in sin?”

“Not really. It was more like living a life of penance. I’ll tell you though, I did like his looks, the way he dressed, his little glasses pinched on his nose, he was so different. I’d never met anyone in my life like Walter Schoen. I think I might’ve felt sorry for him too, he seemed so lonely. He was serious about everything and when we argued—we argued all the time—I’d keep at him, what­ever we were talking about, and it drove him nuts.”

“Determined to change him,” Kevin said.

Honey sat up to look past Kevin. She said, “There’s his mar­ket,” and sat back again. “With a sign in the window, but I couldn’t read it.”

“Announcing no meat today,” Kevin said. “I passed it on the way to your place. So, you thought you could change him?”


“I wanted to get him to quit being so serious and have some fun. Maybe even get him to laugh at Adolf Hitler, the way Charlie Chaplin played him in The Great Dictator. Chaplin has the little smudge of a mustache, the uniform, he’s Adenoid Hynkel, dicta­tor of Tomania. But the movie came out after I left.”

“You think he saw it?”

“I couldn’t get Walter to listen to Jack Benny. He called him a pompous Jew. I said, ‘That’s the part he plays, a cheapskate. You don’t think he’s funny?’ No, or even Fred Allen. We were at some German place having drinks, I said, ‘Walter, have you ever told a joke? Not a political cartoon, a funny story?’ He acted like he didn’t know what I was talking about. I said, ‘I’ll tell you a joke and then you tell it to me. We’ll see how you do.”

Kevin Dean was looking straight ahead grinning. “You were married then?”

Ja, I’m Frau Schoen. I tell him the one, three guys arrive at heaven at the same time. It’s been a very busy day, during the war, and Saint Peter says, ‘I only have time to admit one of you today. How about whoever has experienced the most unusual death.’ Have you heard it?”

“I don’t think so.”

“The first guy tells how he came home unexpectedly, finds his wife in bed naked and tears through the apartment looking for her lover. He runs out on the balcony and there’s the guy hanging from the railing, twenty-five floors above the street. The husband takes off one of his shoes and beats on the guy’s hands till the guy lets go and falls. But he doesn’t hit the pavement, damn it, he lands in a bushy tree and he’s still alive. The husband, furious, grabs the refrigerator, drags it out to the balcony and pushes it over the railing. The fridge lands on the guy in the tree and kills him. But, the exertion is too much for the husband, he has a heart attack and drops dead. Saint Peter says, ‘That’s not bad,’ and turns to the second guy who wants to get into heaven. This one says he was exercising on his balcony, lost his balance and went over the railing. He’s a goner for sure, but reaches out and grabs the railing of the balcony below his apartment. Now a guy comes out and the one hanging twenty-five floors above the street says, ‘Thank God, I’m saved.’ But the guy who comes out takes off his shoe and beats on his hands gripping the rail till he falls. But he lands in the bushy tree, he’s still alive, his eyes wide open to see the fridge coming down to blot out his life. Saint Peter says, ‘Yeah, I like that one.’ Turns to the third guy who wants to get into heaven and says, ‘What’s your story, amigo?’ The guy says, ‘I don’t know what happened. I was naked, hiding in a refrigera­tor...

Honey paused.

Kevin laughed out loud.

“He think it was funny?”

“He didn’t smile or say anything right away. He’s thinking about it. Finally he asked me which of the three guys did Saint Peter let into heaven, and where did the other two have to wait, in limbo? I said, ‘Yeah, limbo, with all the babies that happened to die before they were baptized.”

“Why didn’t he get it?”

“He’s managed to stick his head up his ass,” Honey said, “and the only thing he sees up there are swastikas.”

This sweet girl talking like that. Kevin said, “I’m never sure what you’re gonna say next.”

“I tried one more joke on Walter,” Honey said. “I told him the one, the guy comes home, walks into the kitchen with a sheep in his arms. His wife turns from the sink and he says, ‘This is the pig I’ve been sleeping with when I’m not with you.’ His wife says, ‘You dummy, that’s not a pig, it’s a sheep.’ And the guy says, ‘I wasn’t speaking to you.”

Kevin laughed out loud again and looked at Honey smoking her cigarette. “You like to tell jokes?”

“To Walter, trying to loosen him up.”

“Did he laugh?”

“He said, ‘The man is not talking to his wife, he’s talking to the sheep?’ I said yeah, it’s his wife he’s calling a pig. Walter said, ‘But how does a sheep understand what he’s saying?’ That was it,” Honey said. “There was no way in the world I’d ever turn Walter around. It was a dumb idea to begin with, really arrogant of me to think I could change him. But you know, I realized even if he did lighten up the marriage would never last.”

“There must’ve been something about him you liked,” Kevin said, “I mean as a person.”

“You’d think so, wouldn’t you?” said Honey in the black be­ret nodding her head. “Something more than his accent and his stuck-on glasses, but I can’t think of anything it might be. I was young and I was dumb.” She smoked her cigarette, quiet for a time before saying, “That year with Walter did have some weird moments I’ll never forget. Like when he’d aim his finger at me, pretending it was a gun and cut one.”

Kevin said, “You mean he’d pass gas in front of you?”

“In front of me, behind me—”

But now they were coming to Seward and he had to tell her, “Here’s the street where Jurgen Schrenk and his mom and dad lived in the thirties. The apartment hotel’s in the second block.”


It is through dialogue like this that we learn about the characters and get to observe human nature in all its splendor. While Up in Honey’s Room will never be ranked as one of Leonard’s best novels, it provides reliable entertainment, and that perfect Leonard dialogue and character exposition.


Steve Hopkins, June 25, 2007



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