I’m a big fan of the TV series Justified. It’s one of my current and all-time favorites. Right up there with ER. I’m also a fan of many of Elmore Leonard’s books. Somehow, though, I had managed to not read any of his stories that created the characters who populate Justified
So when I heard that he was writing a new book, RAYLAN, with these selfsame characters, to say I was excited is an understatement.
I got an early copy of RAYLAN and deliberately didn’t read the jacket copy, so I didn’t know what to expect exactly. The same characters? Continuations of story lines I’d seen on the show? Entirely new characters (except, of course, Raylan Givens himself)? Stories that existed independently of the TV show’s take on Harlan, Kentucky?
The answer, it turned out, was “yes” to all of the above. RAYLAN has many of the same characters as the TV series, but they’re each slightly different. Like parallel-universe versions. The places and plot lines are also similar, but not the same. I was thrilled, too, that Mags, the character Margo Martindale played with painful perfection in Justified, is absent from RAYLAN, replaced by a male character who fills the role just fine. Martindale did such a beautiful job with Mags that it makes sense to leave her be.
But whether you watch Justified or not, whether you’ve read Elmore Leonard before or not, RAYLAN is a joy. It’s really two novels in one, with a couple of plot lines that touch but never really intertwine. The characters are each vintage Leonard, and their cadence will make you want to read passages aloud. The book is not laugh-out-loud funny, but it is clever as hell.
In some respects, the relationships in RAYLAN work better than those in Justified. Boyd and Ava make only a brief appearance, for example, but one that makes far more sense than their relationship in the show. RAYLAN doesn’t waste time on anything silly—Leonard, after all, treats each word as though it costs a million bucks—but manages to have all the depth it needs when it matters, whether talking about the impact of strip mining on Kentucky communities or the merits of poker as a career choice for smart young women.
Nobody will ever accuse Elmore Leonard of being politically correct, and RAYLAN is no exception. Yet he is respectful of his story, its heroes and villains.
Reading RAYLAN, it’s impossible to forget you’re in the hands of a master. Elmore Leonard knows how to tell a story, it’s just that simple. His dialog is often touted, but for me, it’s his descriptions of the regular world, the pot growers, court reporters, and race horse owners, that make RAYLAN vintage Leonard. If you’ve never read his books, this is a fine spot to start, and if you have, RAYLAN will be like slipping on your very favorite, if a bit itchy, sweatshirt.
Author’s Website: www.elmoreleonard.com
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