Wednesday, June 12, 2013

You'll Never Leave Harlan Alive


by Elmore Leonard

Published by HarperTorch

5 Out of 5 Stars

Why did I love this book? Two words: Raylan Givens, my favorite kick ass modern day cowboy with a fondness for ice cream.

Pronto, however, is not exclusively Raylan's story, though he figures as a prominent character once he does arrive on the scene. This is actually the story of Harry Arno, a bookie who has decided that in one more year he's going to retire and go to Italy. Italy holds a special place in Harry's heart because he once shot a deserter there during World War II and it was there that he saw Ezra Pound (not once, but twice). This leads to a peculiar obsession for a man like Harry--he's an expert on Ezra Pound (the English teacher in me loved this quirky little twist), can quote lines from memory and reads Pound biographies despite the fact that he doesn't really understand his poetry (does anyone, really? And if you thought to yourself, "Why, yes, yes I do", then I think you're a damn liar). It's also amusing how his fixation on Pound affects those around him (his girlfriend, Joyce, memorizes all of the terrible things about ol' Ezra and even Raylan, after being assigned to escort Harry, goes to the library and checks out some of Pound's poetry, though he's puzzled by everything he reads and soon gives up). But I digress.

Harry's plan seems simple and obtainable, but, in true Leonard fashion, things go caddiwompas. The police want to bring down Harry's boss, Jimmy Cap, a 350 lbs. mob boss with a penchant for butterflies and sun tanning. So what do they do? They indirectly inform Jimmy that Harry's been skimming from him. The problem is that Harry has been skimming--for years, in fact. Jimmy Cap puts out a hit on Harry and, ciao, baby, Harry decides to move up his retirement date and leave the country. Raylan Givens is the U.S. Marshal who decides to go to Italy and try to save Harry from himself and from the hitman he knows has followed Harry.

I will readily admit to knowing nothing about the character of Raylan until watching Justified on FX. On the series, Raylan is a BAMF in a Stetson. That's played down a bit in the book, but I enjoyed it just the same. In the novel Raylan comes off as being a few bricks shy of a load--a good ol' boy in over his head, until you begin to realize that's the persona he's trying to project. It catches people off-guard and gives him an edge. No one knows exactly how to take him, but, make no mistake, Raylan is smarter than your average bear and is capable of extreme violence if necessary. If Raylan has a flaw it's that his sense of justice is so old school black and white that it creates a type of naiveté. In a world where words mean little, Raylan still expects a promise to mean something (after all, it's his willingness to take Harry Arno's word that allows Harry to elude Raylan's grasp twice and thwart his hopes of a promotion with the Marshals service). With his Old West code of ethics and hardscrabble Kentucky coal mining background, Raylan is a complex and entertaining character who makes for an intriguing juxtaposition with the world of Miami's crime syndicate. I'll definitely be reading Riding the Rap and tracking down the Raylan Givens' short stories to sustain me until the next season of Justified.

Riding the Rap

by Elmore Leonard

Published by HarperTorch

5 Out of 5 Stars

For those unfamiliar with the television show Justified, this novel (along with Pronto) serves as the inspiration for the story of Raylan Givens, a U. S. Marshal from Harlan, Kentucky, who has a gun on his hip, a Stetson on his head, and a chip on his shoulder. Torn between coal country's familial "code of honor" and his own desire to be an Old West cowboy meting out justice based on a dogmatic understanding of right and wrong, Raylan often finds himself in the questionable middle ground of moral decisions. At least, that's the tv version. In the novels, Raylan is an interesting character, but not nearly as angry or hell-bent on a path of self-destruction. I prefer the television version, but the books are still well worth reading and it's interesting to see how Justified has molded Leonard's original concept of Raylan into the perfect anti-hero.

In the novel, Raylan is not banished to Harlan, Kentucky, after shooting a local Florida mobster, so we don't get to see him interact with his past or the culture he left behind when he joined the Marshal's service. Instead, Riding the Rap picks up where Pronto left off. Raylan is still seeing Harry Arno's ex-stripper ex-girlfriend, Joyce, but is beginning to realize that their relationship has become something of habit. They're both sticking around because they have nowhere else to go. The fact that Joyce is now acting as Harry's personal chauffeur isn't helping things. A retired bookie, Harry is making final collections when a former client decides to kidnap him Middle-Eastern-terrorist-style until Harry breaks and offers to pay his own ransom. In the meantime, Joyce demands that Raylan look into Harry's mysterious disappearance and Raylan grudgingly begins piecing things together with his own peculiar investigative methods (which usually depend upon throwing people off guard with his cowboy in a suit persona).

There are some twists here that aren't in the series, and I particularly enjoyed the inclusion of Reverend Dawn, a young psychic that readers suspect, despite some of her obvious scams, may be possessed of a limited psychic ability. The scenes where she and Raylan talk are full of Leonard's usual witty banter and sharp dialogue. (Suggestion for Justified producers: how 'bout let's kill Winona off and bring in Dawn? Just saying.)

In addition, there are some nice surprises for fans of the show when you see how key scenes in the novel have been translated to the television version. My favorite was the opening scene of the novel in which Raylan handcuffs Dale Crowe Junior to the steering wheel and has him drive himself (with Raylan riding shotgun) to jail. This was one of my favorite scenes in the television show. There were some slight modifications, such as he's now Dewey Crowe and a white supremacist from Harlan, but, for the most part, the dialogue was lifted directly from the book, proving how brilliantly Leonard's work translates to film.

No comments:

Post a Comment