Book Review: RAYLAN by Elmore Leonard

This review is by contributor Eric Edwards, a cowboy in his own way.—PCN

Raylan Givens, a U.S. Marshal whose no-nonsense way of upholding the law is viewed by his higher-ups as too reminiscent of the Old West, gets relocated from Miami, Florida, back to Harlan County, Kentucky, where the friends and enemies of his youth don’t exactly admire his current profession.

Although the dust jacket suggests a single plot involving our hero on the trail of redneck brothers Dickie and Coover Crowe when they decide to branch out from pot dealing into organ trafficking, the story actually covers multiple cases. There’s Raylan tracking down a college-poker-player-turned-bank-robber who skipped out on her arraignment, and reluctantly playing bodyguard to a sexy female spokeswoman for the coal industry as she faces down an angry crowd of Appalachian locals who suspect her of murdering one of their own. These stories play out as vignettes initially and connect as a whole by the end of the book, but the appeal for me was not so much the plot as Elmore Leonard’s mastery in putting it all together.

I was able to embrace this novel on two levels. First, as an appreciative reader of Leonard’s succinct and unique, character-tailored prose, and secondly as a fan of the current TV show based upon this character. Die-hard Leonard fans might remember Raylan from two of the author’s previous novels (Pronto, Riding the Rap) as well as a novella (“Fire In The Hole” from his collection When the Women Come Out to Dance). I was first introduced to this character via the FX series, Justified, but don’t judge me too harshly because Leonard’s name is what made me watch the show in the first place (season three premieres next Tuesday, Jan. 17, the same day the novel comes out).

Actor Timothy Olyphant’s portrayal of this righteous badass with a past is so on point with the author’s intention, it’s hard not to visualize the actor while devouring the prose. Justified fans who pick up this book will undoubtedly recognize Boyd Crowder (played by Walton Goggins) and Art Mullen (Nick Searcy), but may have a few head-scratching moments when encountering plotlines the show took creative license with during the first two seasons, and the difference in gender of one pivotal character. But hopefully, this won’t discourage watchers from becoming readers and enjoying the work of the man who created Raylan.

Buy Raylan now from Amazon| Buy from an indie bookstore


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  • Reply
    January 10, 2012 at 8:52 pm

    Fine review, Elyse. It’s only whetted my appetite for the book. Thanks!

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      January 10, 2012 at 9:19 pm

      Thanks, but I have to give the credit to Eric!

  • Reply
    January 10, 2012 at 9:44 pm

    I have about 30 pages to go and am loving the book, in no small part because of the differences from the show. One of the Goodreads reviews described it as the characters we know from TV in a slightly parallel universe…I think that fits! Couldn’t agree more about Leonard, too.

  • Reply
    Eric Edwards
    January 11, 2012 at 10:44 am

    Thankst, Le0pard13, but to be honest, PCN makes me sound more intelligent than I am, so your praise was well placed the first time.

  • Reply
    January 11, 2012 at 10:48 am

    Big fan of the FX series. Nice to read the character stays true from what Leonard had in mind. So often is that not the case.

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