Raylan by Elmore Leonard – review

I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with the novels of Elmore Leonard.

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.

Get Shorty

Be Cool

Pagan Babies

Mr. Paradise

Djibouti(You can read my thoughts about this one right HERE over at LitReactor. And, yes, a couple of people who I absolutely respect LOVED this book.)

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:

Killshot

Mr. Majestyk

Pronto

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.

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Keith Rawson

Keith Rawson is a little-known pulp writer whose short fiction, poetry, essays, reviews, and interviews have been widely published both online and in print. He is the author of the short story collection The Chaos We Know (SnubNose Press)and Co-Editor of the anthology Crime Factory: The First Shift.(New Pulp Press) He lives in Southern Arizona with his wife and daughter.

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About Keith Rawson

Keith Rawson is a little-known pulp writer whose short fiction, poetry, essays, reviews, and interviews have been widely published both online and in print. He is the author of the short story collection The Chaos We Know (SnubNose Press)and Co-Editor of the anthology Crime Factory: The First Shift.(New Pulp Press) He lives in Southern Arizona with his wife and daughter.

11 Replies to “Raylan by Elmore Leonard – review”

  1. Watch Season 1&2 of Justified Not Starting with the New Season Please..It will All Fall into place and You will be Totally Hooked .Trust me.Will check back..Susan VT

  2. I love him but have a difficult time with the books that I’ve seen as movies first – that deja vu and casting bias kills them for me. I was nervous about Raylan because I was afraid Leonard was writing to the JUSTIFIED series, but will have to check it out.

    Not like you need more Elmore recommends, but the first book of his I read has subsequently has become the first one I recommend to newcomers to the canon – GLITZ. Has the perfect blend of character, romance, and gritty crime. And doesn’t have that film-first bias (though I think a TV movie was made, it’s not something that people have heard of or orbit much).

  3. Any writer will have their misses, and like you I was dumbfounded for a while on the appeal of Leonard. I do prefer when he gets down and dirty. Glad that Raylan turned out so well. Having read Pronto and Riding the Rap, what did you think of the differences between those and the new Novel in Stories, Raylan? I read that the new stories took on a bit of the TV series, Justified. That Raylan is written younger.

    I just picked up the reissues of both those books and Fire in the Hole, reading that one first.

    You should carve out a little time this next year when your munchkin is in school to get acquainted with Justified. Only series I can’t miss, even though I have a DVR when it airs.

    Good review, Keith.

  4. Keith, you’re spot on! I wrote a blogpost about this show in 2010 (http://www.lesedgertononwriting.blogspot.com/2010/03/new-tv-series-justified-check-it-out.html) where I posed similar sentiments about the show. To me, KILLSHOT, was his best novel and also the only one I’ve seen Hollywood get “right” in the movie version. It’s usually casting that misses the mark, along with Hollywood’s focus on having the bad guy “like kittens” that ruins what Leonard writes. And, I know I’m in the minority, but while I enjoy JUSTIFIED, I feel the main character is miscast entirely. He just doesn’t have the look or feel of a guy who was raised hardscrabble. In the books, he does. And, Leonard himself agrees that casting is what ruins the movies made of his books. (Except for JUSTIFIED, where publicly he says the lead is right, but I wonder how much of that is because he’s the executive producer…)

    Hollywood does know what they’re doing, in terms of ticket sales. The movies they miscast and missed the Leonard aura are the ones that did well. The one movie they really captured Leonard (KILLSHOT) did poorly. Too dark for most moviegoers… The protagonist kicks kittens…

  5. Jack – You know I like ’em pitch, sir. So, yeah, it was just a little too slap sticky for me.

  6. Pingback: Elmore Leonard JUSTIFIED Novel Next Week, Reviews And Controversy

  7. My problem with Raylan the book is it seems as if he is re-writing the character to fit into the changes that television took the character into. After watching both the TV series and reading this book, it is also confusing because the plot lines are similar to the second season but also different. I feel as if he is saying this is how he wanted the second season to go but the writers on the series got in the way, as for a plot, the television writers are better, there is at least some suspense and mystery there, however formulaic. As you said, “Down and Dirty”, if that means just putting everything out there, and Raylan being able to just know everything without any investigation or clues, then I guess you are correct. To be fair, I am only halfway through the second Novella of the book though, and just frustrated.

  8. Chris – I think this is the benefit I have from never having seen the show, the stories and characters seem very fresh to me. And with Raylan being a know all, see all investigator, I personally think this is a foible of Leonard’s generation of crime/mystery novelist (Read any Robert Parker or Donald Westlake novel for other examples)