Book of the week : Raylan - Elmore Leonard

‘Justified’ is a TV series in the USA, now into its third season. It’s based on  proloific author Elmore Leonard’s crime fiction stories featuring US Marshal Raylan Givens; the novels Pronto (1993) and Riding the Rap (1995) and the short story Fire in the Hole (2002)

An unexpected bonus of Justified’s creative success has been that it inspired Leonard – an executive producer on the show – to pen further Raylan Givens stories, something he probably wouldn’t have done if the show hadn’t existed

You don’t have to have seen Justified, though, to enjoy the low-key dramatic splendours of the rather prosaically titled Raylan. In fact, you don’t have to watch any TV at all. Raylan is really a vivid movie-like experience. The book turns into a handheld device that delivers word-filled pages, speeding the story along in your mind without any help from director, actors, cameramen, extras, set decorators and costumers. Nobody but you and the words on the page, and you’re off and running. Or dreaming, as John Gardner used to put it, while awake

The novel touches on Kentucky horse racing, modern coal mining operations and its effect on the environment, and poker playing. Leonard has it all in this book, set in Harlan County, where Givens keeps the peace. The book is really three separate stories of Raylan’s detecting. The first crime involves Raylan catching the persons behind the harvesting of kidneys from doped up but live donors, who are then offered their kidneys back…. for a price. The second crime story deals with coal mining and the people involved, and the third about a young woman who would rather play poker for a living than anything else

In this new novel three main sequences flow smoothly one into the other — Raylan, having killed a suspect in Florida and now posted back to his home turf of Kentucky, goes after the brainless sons of a vastly successful marijuana farmer who have been stealing kidneys from hapless victims. (Says Raylan of this situation: “What I don’t see, what these pot growers are doing yanking out people’s kidneys. They aren’t making it sellin weed? I’ve heard a whole cadaver, selling parts of it at a time? Will go for a hundred grand. But you make more you sell enough weed, and it isn’t near as messy as dealin kidneys.”)

Our sure-thinking, dead-shot deputy bests the country boys, a former stable hand posing as an African, and a scalpel-toting surgical nurse. This segues into cases in which a mining company employee blows away a neighbour with a complaint, and a widowed granny turns into a shotgun-toting killer

Our valiant lawman then gallantly takes on the care of a sparky college girl turned champion poker player while working a case that involves a murderous club-owning thug who sends his young strippers out to rob banks in exchange for drugs

The kidney-theft caper sets a darkly comic tone, and the mining murder does not add much cheer to these pages, though, as in the final section, the alacrity and buoyancy of Leonard’s narrative, which rushes along fueled by the dramatic edge of his brilliant dialogue and brings every bad guy (and girl) to justice, makes a reader want to stand up and shout: ‘Mission accomplished!’

The local dialect and slang is used throughout the novel to add atmosphere and give authenticity and a sense of place. It is entertaining fiction that I recommend to mystery lovers.

With a practiced ease and the craft of more than half a century of novelistic composition, Leonard works like the Picasso of crime fiction, deftly sketching in his characters by means of carefully shaped dialogue and keenly detailed physical action with such seemingly offhand skill that the novels often overtake the reader with their straightforward momentum and their incisive psychology of those who live beneath and outside the law. Reading his pages is like filling up on chocolates that are good for you

Dark and droll, Raylan is pure Elmore Leonard—a page-turner filled with the sparkling dialogue and sly suspense that are the hallmarks of this modern master


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