Elmore Leonard. Need I say more? OK, if you insist:
Leonard is, hands down, the best living crime writer. Sorry, I’m not opening it up for debate. I discovered his stories almost 20 years ago in college and I’ve never stopped reading him. The man knows how to write. And while many of his stories have been turned into movies (some good, some … not so good), the truth is that his novels and short stories are where it’s at. The most interesting dialogue, the locales he picks, and the trouble that he inevitably drops his characters into — all key signatures of an Elmore Leonard story. Fans of Leonard will often tell you that it’s difficult to pick their favorites.
But not for me.
I can tell you right now that every story that features Deputy US Marshal Raylan Givens has a permanent space on my bookshelf. There’s the short story that started it all, Fire in the Hole. Then two novels, Pronto and Riding the Rap.
And now I can add Leonard’s latest novel, Raylan — I picked up my copy today and will likely finish it in the next few days.
But this Raylan Givens fan is on a roll — last night was the Season 3 premier on FX of Justified, the television show based on the character of Raylan Givens (played by Timothy Olyphant). Jumping all the way back to Season 1, I can say that the very first episode followed closely the short story, Fire in the Hole, with a few deviations namely (SPOILERS FOLLOW HERE) that criminal Boyd Crowder died in the short story but lives on as probably one of the best characters on the TV show. The TV show also resurrects Raylan’s shady father, Arlo, and introduces some of Raylan’s fellow marshals. This is necessary for the longer story lines that require more complications and more characters, and it makes me wish that the universe of book-Raylan matched that of TV-Raylan.
If you’ve not discovered Justified, I envy you. The first two seasons are available on DVD (13 episodes per season) and I wish I could watch them again without knowing all the stuff that’s happened in Harlan County, Kentucky, over 26 speed-blurred hours of storytelling. Now I’ve got to wait impatiently, week by week, for the season 3 episodes to be released. I get to ponder all sorts of questions like (AGAIN, SPOILERS AHEAD) whether Boyd planned that marshal office fight with Raylan just to get thrown into jail so he could finish the feud with the Bennett clan’s last surviving son, Dickie. I get to look forward to the fact that Boyd’s old stooge Dewie Crowe is still alive and kicking’ and also in the pokey apparently buddying up to Dickie. It looks like Arlo is now taking sides with the Crowder clan … or is he? Will Raylan’s boss, Art, ever figure out it was Winona that took the money and cut Raylan some slack instead of suspecting him? And then there’s the re-appearance of gut-shot survivor, Johnny Crowder, who seems to have forgiven Boyd but certainly not Raylan. Oh, man… I thought Season 2 was violent (the last episode was titled Bloody Harlan, so be warned) but it’s looking like Season 3 is going to get really dirty. (The body count in just the first episode of Season 3 hit 5 if I counted correctly.)
As I said: This has been a great week for Elmore Leonard fans, and an even better week for fans of Raylan Givens and Justified. A new book, Season 1 and Season 2 on DVD, the start of Season 3, and a lot of new fans that might help convince Leonard to give us some more stories about Harlan County’s not-so-favorite son.
Not convinced yet about the non-sci-fi and non-fantasy character of Deputy US Marshal Raylan Givens? Watch and listen to Raylan intimidate a bad guy in a bar with some good old-fashioned geek trivia.