Written by Elmore Leonard — This is the third novel, after Riding the Rap and Pronto, to feature US Marshall Raylan Givens. Having experienced only mixed success with film and TV adaptations of his work (anybody remember Karen Sisco, the short-lived spin-off from Out of Sight?) it’s no wonder Leonard decided to cash in on the popularity of Justified, which stars Timothy Olyphant as Raylan. It’s just completed its third season and its success may well point new fans in the direction of the author’s books.
Leonard has been down this road before, admitting to writing Road Dogs in an attempt to interest George Clooney in reprising his role as the charismatic bank robber Jack Foley. Thankfully this is a much better book.
For anyone unfamiliar with the character, Raylan Givens is the son of a Kentucky miner whose speed and skill with a handgun land him a job with the Federal Marshall Service and a ticket to the big city. Unfortunately his use of the very same skills get him transferred back home after he kills a Miami drug dealer who ignored his warning to leave town within 24 hours or face the cosequences. Raylan has always maintained that the shooting was, you guessed it, justified.
The book is really three storylines, interconnected by place and a few other recurring characters. In the first, after tracking down a wanted fugitive, Raylan prepares to serve his warrant only to find the man semi-comatose in an ice bath after his kidneys have been removed. In the second, Raylan is assigned to protect an unscrupulous mining executive whose life is threatened by residents angry about the effects of strip mining on the environment and health of the local population. The third story has a strip club owner with a personal grievance against Raylan running a string of dancers turned armed robbers. In each, Raylan is presented with a sexy protagonist, and Leonard has lots of fun with the interplay between Raylan’s desire to uphold the law, and his libido. At times even he can’t explain the choices he makes.
Like all Leonard books the plot is rudimentary, and Raylan can’t really be described as a mystery since it is clear pretty much from the outset who is doing what, and how things will end up. For many authors this would be quite crippling, but with Leonard the pleasure is found elsewhere. His ear for dialogue is peerless, and his ability to draw characters through what they say, and how they say it, is a marvel. Again and again wonderfully comic situations are finished with great timing.
This book is a blast from start to finish, without any redundant writing, and I defy other crime fiction lovers to find a single boring scene within. Raylan is a major return to form, a book which only Leonard could write, and his best since Tishomingo Blues.
Weidenfeld & Nicolson
CFL Rating: 5 Stars