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Pagan babies
Leonard, Elmore, 1925-2013.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Delacorte Press, 2000.
Physical Description:
263 pages ; 25 cm
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In Rwanda during the genocide, Hutu thugs storm into a church and kill everyone except Father Terry Dunn, on the alter saying his first mass. He's powerless to do anything about it--until one day he faces several of the killers and exacts a chilling penance.  But is Terry Dunn really a priest?   He doesn't always appear to act like one. He comes home to Detroit and runs into Debbie Dewey who's doing standup at a comedy club. In her set, Debbie tells what it was like in prison, down for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. Terry and Debie hit it off; they have the same sense of humor and similar goals in that both are out to raise money. Terry says for the Little Orphans of Rwanda; Debbie to score off a guy who conned her out of sixty-seven thousand dollars. This is Randy, now wealthy, who runs a fashionable restaurant and is connected to the Detroit Mafia. It's Debbie who keeps prying until she learns the bizarre truth about Terry; Debbie who sells him on going in together for a much bigger payoff than either could manage alone.  What happened in Rwanda remains alive through the unexpected twists and turns of the plot. But even with this tragic background. Pagan Babies comes off as Leonard's funniest straight-faced novel to date.

Author Notes

Elmore John Leonard, Jr. 10/11/25 -- 8/20/13 Elmore John Leonard, Jr., popularly known as mystery and western writer Elmore Leonard, was born in New Orleans, Louisiana on October 11, 1925. He served in the United States Naval Reserve from 1943 to 1946. He received a Ph.D. in English from the University of Detroit in 1950. After graduating, he wrote short stories and western novels as well as advertising and education film scripts. In 1967, he began to write full-time and received several awards including the 1977 Western Writers of America award and the 1984 Writers of America Edgar Allan Poe award. His other works include Get Shorty, Out of Sight, Hombre, Mr. Majestyk, 3:10 to Yuma, and Rum Punch. Many of his works were adapted into movies.

Library of America recently announced plans to publish the first of a three-volume collection of his books beginning in the Fall of 2014. Leonard died on August 20, 2013 from complications of a stroke he had earlier. He was 87 years old.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Not long ago we described the characters in Leonard's novels as gutsy individualists who think quick and act quicker. They're still plenty quick in the master's latest blending of tragedy and comedy. It begins on a decidedly tragic note, as Father Terry Dunn exacts a profoundly unpriestly form of justice against several Hutu murderers who slaughtered 47 Tutsis in Dunn's Rwanda church. After a hasty departure from Africa, Dunn surfaces in his hometown of Detroit, where he forms an unholy alliance with Debbie Dewey, just released from prison for aggravated assault and embarking on a career as a stand-up comic. Is Father Dunn really a priest? Will the money he and Debbie raise for Rwandan orphans ever reach Africa? There are strains of many previous Leonard novels here, especially Rum Punch (1992), in which a quirky bond forms between two unlikely partners who banter like an edgier version of Tracy and Hepburn. This time Leonard sharpens the edge: Dunn and Debbie might be in love, but they might also be conning one another. Or is the con bigger than both of them? The comic element in Leonard's thrillers has often been celebrated, but he's no slouch at romance, either. In fact, no genre is safe within his reach; Leonard transposes the conventions of popular fiction as adroitly as he rattles off his signature dialogue-to-die-for. Just imagine an unknown writer trying to pitch this novel to an agent: "It's a sort-of Tracy-Hepburn romantic comedy without the conventional happy ending, and it's set against the genocide in Rwanda." Fortunately, Leonard can think as quickly as his characters. --Bill Ott

Publisher's Weekly Review

The opening paragraph depicts a corner of hell on earth: a church in Rwanda after the recent (real-life) genocide, "a tomb where forty-seven bodies turned to leather.... " That's a grim start for a Leonard book, and the rest of this 36th novel from the old master doesn't shy from its dark promise. The world depicted here is a treacherous place, infested with diseased souls. While some of the spiritually afflicted are villains, however, some are merely scoundrels. It's to the latter that Leonard lends hopeDmost notably to two appealing felons: "Father" Terry Dunn, who ministers to the Rwanda church's surviving flock although he is on the lam and only posing as a priest, and Debbie Dewey, just released after serving three years for driving over her (now ex) husband with a Ford Escort. When Terry guns down four men responsible for the massacre in the church and flees to hometown Detroit, he meets Debbie and the two fall in lust pronto. It takes only minutes for Terry to inform Debbie, who's trying to make it as a stand-up comic telling prison jokes, that he's a sham priest, and only days for him to clue her in on his new scheme: to bilk the soft-hearted for dollars supposedly for Rwandan orphans but really for Terry's pockets. Great idea, Debbie thinks, and why not get the money from her now rich and mob-connected ex, and maybe even from mob boss Tony Amilia himself? The narrative ricochets through the ensuing caper and its gallery of players as lifelike as they are unlikely. As readers watch an erstwhile hoodlum pal of Terry's, one Johnny Pajonny, link up with a dim-witted hitman known as "Mutt," they'll know that they're standing at ground-zero Leonard, surrounded by some of the sweetest prose between covers this year and caught up in a crime thriller that takes admirable chancesDaesthetically and morally. Film rights sold to Universal and Danny DeVito's production company, Jersey Films. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

One of the great pleasures of Leonard's novels is his knack for putting morally ambivalent but sympathetic characters in unexpected situations. Who could be more morally ambivalent than a Detroit cigarette smuggler who goes on the lam by spending five years as a missionary priest among the victims of Rwanda's horrific genocide? And what could be more unexpected than a priest using orphan relief as a pretext for shaking down a gangster? Pagan Babies resembles the author's controversial book Touch, about a former missionary who experiences the stigmata, but religion is less central to this new story. As with most of Leonard's works, its plot revolves around a delightful collection of characters, no two of whom can fully trust each other, thereby guaranteeing many surprises. Ron McLarty is an ideal reader for this sort of book; his voice conveys both irony and toughness, while displaying the same sense of exasperation at moral ambiguity that the listener must feel. Highly recommended for popular fiction collections. Kent Rasmussen, Thousand Oaks, CA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



THE CHURCH HAD BECOME a tomb where forty-seven bodies turned to leather and stains had been lying on the concrete floor the past five years, though not lying where they had been shot with Kalashnikovs or hacked to death with machetes. The benches had been removed and the bodies reassembled: men, women and small children laid in rows of skulls and spines, femurs, fragments of cloth stuck to mummified remains, many of the adults missing feet, all missing bones that had been carried off by scavenging dogs. Since the living would no longer enter the church, Fr. Terry Dunn heard confessions in the yard of the rectory, in the shade of old pines and silver eucalyptus trees. "Bless me, Fatha, for I have sin. It has been two months from the last time I come to Confession. Since then I am fornicating with a woman from Gisenyi three times only and this is all I have done. They would seem to fill their mouths with the English words, pronounc-ing each one carefully, with an accent Terry believed was heard only in Africa. He gave fornicators ten Our Fathers and ten Hail Marys, murmured what passed for an absolution while the penitent said the Act of Contrition, and dismissed them with a reminder to love God and sin no more. "Bless me, Fatha, for I have sin. Is a long time since I come here but is not my fault, you don't have Confession always when you say. The sin I did, I stole a goat from close by Nyundo for my family to eat. My wife cook it en brochette and also in a stew with potatoes and peppers." "Last night at supper," Terry said, "I told my housekeeper I'd enjoy goat stew a lot more if it wasn't so goddamn bony." The goat thief said, "Excuse me, Fatha?" "Those little sharp bones you get in your mouth," Terry said, and gave the man ten Our Fathers and ten Hail Marys. He gave just about everyone ten Our Fathers and ten Hail Marys to say as their penance. Some came seeking advice. "Bless me, Fatha, I have not sin yet but I think of it. I see one of the men kill my family has come back. One of the Hutu Interahamwe militia, he come back from the Goma refugee camp and I like to kill him, but I don't want to go to prison and I don't want to go to Hell. Can you have God forgive me before I kill him?" Terry said, "I don't think He'll go for it. The best you can do, report the guy to the conseiller at the sector office and promise to testify at the trial." The man who hadn't killed anyone yet said, "Fatha, when is that happen? I read in Imvaho they have one hundred twenty-four thousand in prisons waiting for trials. In how many years will it be for this man that kill my family? Imvaho say two hundred years to try all of them." Terry said, "Is the guy bigger than you are?" "No, he's Hutu." "Walk up to the guy," Terry said, "and hit him in the mouth as hard as you can, with a rock. You'll feel better. Now make a good Act of Contrition for anything you might've done and forgot about." Terry could offer temporary relief but nothing that would change their lives. Penitents would kneel on a prie-dieu and see his profile through a framed square of cheesecloth mounted on the kneeler: Fr. Terry Dunn, a bearded young man in a white cassock, sitting in a wicker chair. Sideways to the screen he looked at the front yard full of brush and weeds and the road that came up past the church from the village of Arisimbi. He heard Confession usually once a week but said Mass, in the school, only a few times a year: Christmas Day, Easter Sunday and when someone died. The Rwandese Bishop of Nyundo, nine miles up the road, sent word for Fr. Dunn to come and give an account of himself. He drove there in the yellow Volvo station wagon that had belonged to the priest before him and sat in the bishop's office among African sculptures and decorative baskets, antimacassars in bold star designs on the leather sofa and chairs, on the wall a print of the Last Supper and a photograph of the bishop taken with the pope. Terry had worn his cassock. The bishop, in a white sweater, asked him if he was attempting to start a new sect within the Church. Terry said no, he had a personal reason for not acting as a full-time priest, but would not say what it was. He did tell the bishop, "You can contact the order that runs the mission, the Missionary Fathers of St. Martin de Porres in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, and ask to have me replaced; but if you do, good luck. Young guys today are not breaking down the door to get in the seminary." This was several years ago. Terry left the bishop shaking his head and was still here on his own. This afternoon the prie-dieu was placed beneath a roof of palm fronds and thatch that extended from the rectory into the yard. A voice raised against the hissing sound of the rain said, "Bless me, Fatha, for I have sin," and started right in. "I kill seven people that time I'm still a boy and we kill the inyenzi, the cockroaches. I kill four persons in the church the time you saying the Mass there and you see it happen. You know we kill five hundred in Nyundo before we come here and kill I think one hundred in this village before everybody run away." Terry continued to stare at the yard that sloped down to the road, the clay hardpack turned dark in the rain. "And we kill some more where we have the roadblock and stop all the drivers and look at the identity cards. The ones we want we take in the bush and kill them." The man paused and Terry waited. The guy wasn't confessing his sins, he was bragging about what he did. "You hear me, Fatha?" Terry said, "Keep talking," wondering where the guy was going with it. "I can tell you more will die very soon. How do I know this? I am a visionary, Fatha. I am told in visions of the Blessed Virgin saying to do it, to kill the inyenzi. I tell you this and you don't say nothing, do you?" Terry didn't answer. The man's voice, at times shrill, sounded familiar. "No, you can't," the voice said. "Oh, you can tell me not to do it, but you can't tell no other person, the RPA, the conseiller, nobody, because I tell you this in Confession and you have the rule say you can't talk about what you hear. You listen to me? We going to cut the feet off before we kill them. You know why we do it? You are here that time, so you understand. But you have no power, so you don't stop us. Listen, if we see you when we come, a tall one like you, we cut your feet off, too." Terry sat in his wicker chair staring out at the rain, the pale sky, mist covering the far hills. The thing was, these guys could do it. They already had, so it wasn't just talk, the guy mouthing off. He said, "You going to give me my penance to say?" Terry didn't answer. "All right, I finished." The man rose from the kneeler and in a moment Terry watched him walking away, barefoot, skinny bare legs, a stick figure wearing a checkered green shirt and today in the rain a raggedy straw hat with the brim turned down. Terry didn't need to see the guy's face. He knew him the way he knew people in the village by the clothes they wore, the same clothes they put on every morning, if they didn't sleep in them. He had seen that green shirt recently, only a few days ago . . . Excerpted from Pagan Babies by Elmore Leonard All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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