A Life of Crime

Sophie Buchan, Elmore Leonard’s editor at Weidenfeld & Nicolson, discusses the new big screen adaptation of his classic The Switch.




Adapting Elmore Leonard for the big screen is a notoriously hard thing to do. Which is ironic, given that his novels are some of the most cinematic things you’ll find on a bookshelf.

Perhaps that’s the problem.

Elmore Leonard wrote dialogue like a screenwriter; could build a character you can picture in just a few lines. You’d think that would make adaptation easy, but Leonard wasn’t a fan of many of the films that were based on his books.

So much of Leonard’s appeal comes down to tone, and tone doesn’t shapeshift easily. It’s elusive; a difficult thing to define. Leonard loved Justified, the adaptation of his Raylan Givens stories. When I asked him why, he said Timothy Olyphant ‘just has it’.

Having watched the trailer, I’m raising my hopes that Life of Crime might just have it too. It definitely has a sense of fun, and that’s key to Leonard’s tone – even his most down-at-heel baddies have a certain joie de vivre. Leonard wrote complex, three-dimensional characters but he didn’t write realistic ones – they’re far better talkers than anyone you’re likely to meet. And the acting in the trailer really captures that. The fox masks look great, too.   

Leonard’s plots are twisty, but the idea here is simple. Mickey (Jennifer Aniston) is a desperate housewife before there were desperate housewives; the bored wife of Detroit property developer, Frank (Tim Robbins). Mickey is kidnapped, and a one million dollar bounty is placed on her head. But there’s a snag. Frank is bored of her and doesn’t want to pay. So then it’s time for Plan B. And, with Mickey in league with her captors, this is where the real caper begins.

We published the book as The Switch but Life of Crime is more than fitting, not only for the story but also for the life of its much-missed author.


The Switch


The Switch is published by Orion in both paperback and ebook.