Books: Real Tinsel

GET SHORTY by Elmore Leonard

Delacorte; 292 pages; $18.95

When Elmore Leonard writes a thriller called Get Shorty, you know he's going to get Shorty. Leonard does not fool around. It does occur to the reader, a couple of pages before the end of the last chapter, that no character named Shorty has yet appeared. But Leonard is our funniest and most reliable folklorist of low, middle and upper-middle lowlife -- the kind of human lint that accumulates in society's navel. He knows his business, doesn't he?

Sure he does. Shorty will turn up any moment now. In the meantime, as...