Up in Honey's Room is the third story featuring U.S. Marshall Carl Webster. The first, 2005's The Hot Kid, introduced us to the young lawman, who in the story would be glorified in True Detective and the book-within-the book Carl Webster: The Hot Kid of the Marshalls Service. "If I have to pull my weapon I'll shoot to kill." We also meet his wife-to-be Louly, who wants the world to think she is Pretty Boy Floyd's girlfriend. It was set in the 1930s in Oklahoma. Carl's father Virgil, who he lives with, had been a supporting character in Cuba Libre, a Marine who had been blown off the deck of the USS Maine when the Spanish blew it up.
The second installment, Comfort to the Enemy, was not a book at all, but rather a 14 part serial that ran in the New York Times Sunday Magazine from September to December of 2005. Set during World War II, we saw Carl investigating a murder of a German POW at a camp in Oklahoma, his relationship with one of the prisoners, Jurgen Schrenk, and the ultimate escape of Jurgen and another one of the prisoners.
Up in Honey's Room takes us to Detroit, where Carl is tracking the escaped Jurgen Schrenk. It is April of 1945 and the war in Europe is winding down.
So the debate goes: What makes an Elmore Leonard novel so interesting? Is it the characters, the plot, or maybe the dialog?
First let's look at the characters.
One of my problems here is that I finally realized that I don't particularly like Carl Webster. In many ways he is a typical Leonard protagonist, a man of few words, strong on principle, attractive to women, handy with a gun, etc. Most of the books have a main character that is a variation on this theme, sometimes a law enforcement type, sometimes not. There are a few things about Carlos that don't sit right, though. He seems to be more of a publicity hound than he should be, had read his own publicity one time too many. The part where he made a conscious decision to cheat on his wife, a situation eventually avoided by happenstance rather than a change of heart, bothered the hell out of me.
I actually found the escaped German tank commander to be a more compelling character than Carl, wished we had learned more about him. He seemed like he would have been a fascinating person to meet, have a drink with, discuss the differences between our cultures, etc. I find myself wondering what became of him. Did he fulfill his fantasy about becoming a cowboy?
I was not real fond of the villain here. Leonard's bad guys can be right scary. In my mind, part of that scariness can be attributed to my willingness to believe in the character. Clement Mansell, Ordell Robbie, Lionel Tavalera, Dr. Taulbee, these were all people I could believe existed. I just could not accept Bohdan Krevchenko. The Ukrainian transvestite assassin seemed like too much of a comic book character.
Honey Deal (the family name Diehl was changed at Ellis Island) was a wonderful character. A gold digger with a library card, she worked at J. L. Hudson's in Better Dresses. Otto Penzler, the Waffen-SS officer who escaped with Jurgen, got interesting just before he disappeared from the story on page 83. On the cover of the Advance Reader's Edition of the book, Leonard says that he auditions his characters in the opening scenes and by page 100, if they haven't found their voice, they are out. In this case, it looks to me like Otto found his voice in the part where he was being written out. Darcy Deal was the obligatory redneck, surprisingly not connected (so far as I could find) with Leonard's The Moonshine War, although the time and setting would have fit. Walter Schoen, Honey's ex-husband and Himmler wannabe, managed to be convincing and almost sadly sympathetic. Vera Mezwa, the head of the "spy ring" bothered me at first, I more or less lumped her into the same comic book as her boy Bohdan, but she got better.
There is not a lot of plot in this book but it has some unexpected subtleties to it. You would expect this story to be about Carl tracking down and capturing Jurgen, but that is more of the context than the story. The spy ring (or rather Walter) is hatching a plot. Honey is trying to seduce Carl. What has happened to Otto? Is Darcy going to cause trouble? And so on. This all leads to a confrontation that we see coming for some time, which is resolved in a manner that we don’t see coming.
It’s all pretty satisfying, but the real reason that this book is so enjoyable is the dialog, particularly the conversations that include Honey. There are some great lines, like when Honey says to Jurgen “I got to know more about you, Hun”, but it is the give and take amongst the characters that kept my interest. Carl and Jurgen discussing bull riding and then making fun of “Valter” and his doomed plan to take out FDR. Honey and the FBI guy Kevin talking about the war. Otto and the woman he would run away with, discussing Bertold Brecht.
So what did I think, did I like the book? Definitely. Is this among my favorite Elmore Leonard books? No. I am kind of glad to be done with Mr. Carlos Huntington Webster, actually. Hopefully he welcomes Louly home from the war and he reconsiders the desk assignment, his luck can’t last forever. With Cuba Libre the exception to the rule, I prefer the books written about the present. Elmore Leonard’s sound is at its best when it is the sound of today’s street. I wouldn’t mind finding out what happened to Honey and Jurgen, though.The complete Up In Honey's Room Reviews thread on The Dutch Forum