When the Women Come Out to Dance by Elmore Leonard from Best American Noir of the Century – review

best american noir of the centuryReviewed by Gerard Brennan

“When the Women Come Out to Dance” by Elmore Leonard pairs Mrs Mahmood, an ex-stripper who’s done quite well for herself (i.e. landed a rich husband), and Lourdes, a recently widowed Colombian lady seeking employment in South Florida. From their first meeting by the pool of the Mahmood mansion, Lourdes knows that Mrs Mahmood wants more from her than what’s declared on her list of duties as a personal maid. But she is a patient woman and doesn’t press her employer to broach the subject at first. As the story rolls out, it becomes apparent that Lourdes has a pretty good idea of what the paranoid ex-stripper is after, but she takes the job, the free clothes and the inappropriate attentions of the boss-lady’s plastic surgeon husband, Doctor Wasim Mahmood, with what initially appears to be a blasé attitude. Then, when the time to act comes, it allows the reader a glance of what goes on beneath the cool exterior the Columbian maid projects.

This is a morality tale that uses greed and fear as the chief motivators of the plot. As you would expect from the masterful Leonard, the writing is top notch, dense with snappy dialogue and the characters are less than saintly. The ending doesn’t really blindside the reader as it’s really the only place it could have gone as a noir tale but it does carry a decent sense of comeuppance. Personally, I thought the denouement could have been played out a little more though some would argue its merits as a short, sharp, shock. Above all, however, it’s a worthy addition to The Best American Noir of the Century.


Gerard Brennan is a Northern Irish writer. He edited the anthology Requiems for the Departed and blogs at Crime Scene NI.

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Brian Lindenmuth

Brian is the non-fiction editor of Spinetingler magazine and one of the fiction editors of Snubnose Press. In addition to Spinetingler his work has appeared in Crimespree magazine and at BSC Review, Galleycat and the Mulholland Books website. He also heads the Spinetingler Award committee.

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  1. Never thought of this as noir before. I was rooting hard for Lourdes, and never thought she did anything to those bad people they didn’t have coming. Nice review, Gerard. I agree about the end. Could have been more fun.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Jack.

    And, yeah, you’re spot on. They definitely had it coming. That element of the story was perfectly handled.



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