Out Of Sight – Crime Time

I recently took a break from SFF, sojourning into the world of crime-fiction master Elmore Leonard. The occasional crime novel tickles my fancy; in 2021 I reviewed both The Silence of the Lambs and The Silent Patient, and my reviews were anything but quiet. Leonard’s Out of Sight marks my latest crime novel, but does it measure up to my previous experiences with the genre?

“Gentleman felon” Jack Foley breaks out of a Florida Prison where he’s sentenced to spend 30+ years for bank robbery. To Foley, 30 years is three decades too long to be stuck in a cell, so he busts out. During the escape, he has a chance encounter in the trunk of a car with federal marshal Karen Sisco. Foley and Sisco later get separated, but the bank robber can’t keep the stunning agent from his thoughts, even as he ventures north to Detroit, where a major thieving job awaits. 

Diving into crime fiction always reminds me of how niche the SFF pantheon can be. I adore my chosen genres, and I wouldn’t trade them for the world. After a brief discussion about the nature of crime books and their intentional focus on plot, fellow QTL reviewer Alex shared an excellent article with me. In Unsettling Futures, Matthew Claxton explores the implications of “show, don’t tell” as a steadfast rule of SFF and how it can stifle new ideas. Out of Sight proves an interesting case study here. Sure, the book is populated by characters, and they each have distinctive qualities and moods. The book isn’t afraid to give them time to think and experience their thoughts in a way some writing instructors might deem taboo. In other words, there’s nothing wrong with a book that uses “telling” over showing as a shortcut to its final destination. Out of Sight concerns itself primarily with the plot, and frankly, it feels better to be told minorly important details than be regaled with lengthy-but-unnecessary scenes to flesh out the characters involved. 

Considering this, though, we soon approach an issue. I don’t know how to review it like I would with a “typical” book from my TBR. Against the criteria we use to measure fantasy books, out of Sight doesn’t compare. Why should it? No dragons to be slain or corrupt magical governments to be toppled here. Just a federal agent and a smooth-talking thief juggling their duties with their complex feelings for each other. In a vacuum, it’s an entertaining jaunt, though I felt the ending was a tad abrupt. 

Where, then, does it fit within my mind as a fantasy reader? Out of Sight serves a peculiar purpose for a reader like me. Say big SFF series are my 9-to-5. Crime novels are my smoke breaks. Once in a while, a tightly-wound narrative cleans my slate. Get in, have some fun, get out, and move on to the next doorstopper. Leonard’s story neatly fits its function.

All of this is to say I appreciated the slimness of Out of Sight. Its focus on the story Leonard wants to tell strips away a lot of the fluff. It works particularly well here because, like most crime novels, it takes place in our world. I don’t need chapters to fill in every minuscule detail of the world. Give me the characters, tell me a few things about them, and let ‘em loose. Leonard does this masterfully, both with his main characters Foley and Sisco, and his supporting cast. They’re set free to exist within the framework of the story. The result is a 350-ish page book that doesn’t feel like it needs to trim anything, nor does it feel like it misses anything important. 
I don’t intend to measure Out of Sight against the other books I read. Instead, I see it as a detour, a side quest in my journey through the SFF greats. I enjoyed it, and I appreciated its narrow focus. Elmore Leonard writes in the Goldilocks zone. Not too much, not too little. Out of Sight is juuuust right.

Rating: Out of Sight – 7.5/10

Buy this book on Bookshop.org

Leave a Reply