I know, I know, he’s one of the true masters of crime fiction and I should just heap praise on whatever he writes.
I know he’s written more truly great novels in a ten year span of his 50 plus year career than I’m likely to write in my entire lifetime. But there are certain novels of Leonard’s that have been recommended by friends which have left me more than a little cold.
All of these listed above, I couldn’t stand any of them despite the near universal praise. The problem is, when my introduction to a writer is based on so-so books, you’re going to lose me. I’m going to pass by the enormous section dedicated to Leonard’s massive back catalog in bookstores and move onto writers I’m more familiar with.
Of course, being stubborn and having some very persuasive friends who live and die by Leonard’s prose, I tried out a few more of his books:
Riding the Rap
All of these were down and dirty crime fiction, where even the protagonists, the heroes, were just as big of assholes, if not bigger ones, than the bad guys.
I like this in my crime fiction.
In fact, I straight up love it.
It’s what I strive for when I sit down to write a new story.
I particularly like coal miner turned U.S. Marshal, Raylan Givens. Yeah, he’s a good dude, has high moral standards most of the time, but he also has zero beef with beating the living hell out of someone or shooting them in the face if it justifies a means to an end.
And with his latest, Raylan, down and dirty crime fiction is exactly what Leonard delivers.
To start off, Raylan is not a full length novel. Yes, it’s marketed as a single narrative, but it’s basically broken into several interlaced novellas. The first is about a pot deal gone wrong, and what I mean by wrong is that the dealer who was suppose to be buying the weed is drugged and has both of his kidney’s removed. After Raylan discovers the dealer submerged in a tub of ice, the individuals who cut the kidneys out of the dealer offer to sell the organs back for $100,000 dollars.
The second novella deals with the murder of a retired coal miner whose house is destroyed when a boulder is purposely dropped on his home as a warning to discourage him from pursuing a lawsuit over the coal company destroying the small lake on his property. The retired miner is understandably pissed and heads to the mine site with a shotgun and is gunned down by the Vice President of the mine.
The third piece is the story of Raylan helping the Indiana police track down an escaped con who also happens to be straight-A college student, a first rate card shark and accidental bank robber
As expected, Leonard’s dialogue is pitch perfect (is there any author working who writes better dialogue than Leonard?) and his prose is brilliantly stripped down. The true high light of the novel is the female antagonists who dominate the narratives. They’re ruthless, cunning, and wholly believable in their motivations.
Now, I’ll be the first to admit (get your rotten tomatoes ready to throw at me) I’ve never actually watched Justified (Yeah, yeah, I’m busy and my TV watching tends to be dominated by the tyrannical 5-year-old I live with, so suck it.) so my only frame of reference to Raylan are the previous novels he was featured in and I can honestly say that Raylan is a brutally paced, read in one sitting novel which equals the masterful storytelling of Pronto and Riding the Rap.