At 86, Elmore Leonard is still banging them out with the best of 'em.
For his latest novel, he's going back to U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens, the character he created which inspired the FX series "Justified" starring Timothy Olyphant. Leonard has decided (probably due to the wild success of the show) to throw Givens into some very new and very strange crimes in his new, appropriately titled "Raylan."
"Raylan" doesn't have just one story to tell but three interconnecting ones. All three involve very bad, law-breaking women, and Raylan is there to take them on with his quick hands and quick quips. We've got women stealing kidneys, robbing banks and shooting coal miners. Basically, everything you'd expect from a Leonard novel and more. Raylan is forced to deal with drawing on a woman while also tackling some of Kentucky's toughest criminals and drug dealers.
"Raylan" is easily the best literary thriller of this still-young year. Leonard has created his own style of writing, sketching out his legend in genre storytelling much like Alfred Hitchcock did with his films. Leonard is at the top of his game for "Raylan." The book is probably eighty percent dialogue which makes it a fast and tense read, but that also exemplifies what a master Leonard is. He manages to make his dialogue, characters and settings so real that we need very little description. By leaving more to our imagination than most authors, Leonard gives us something strikingly visual and engaging.
Leonard and Givens fans will be glad to know that the novel hits all the right and familiar beats. We get Raylan being chewed out by his boss, we get his ex-wife showing up and other old friends who can be recognized from other Raylan stories and the television series (of which Leonard is an executive producer). Leonard manages to not make these familiar characters old, however. In a Leonard universe, characters grow or at least pretend to grow for the sake of us and Raylan.
The other key to "Raylan's" success is its understanding of setting. Very few times has a novel felt like it actually transported me to another place when I was done reading. Well, I certainly felt like I had been to Kentucky. Leonard gets the people, dialogue and attitudes right, and he especially nails the state's open settings. How do I know? Well, I knew a guy from Kentucky once ... but, mainly I just know because Leonard wrote it and it felt so damn true.
Fans of the show (and I know there's many here) will probably enjoy "Raylan" the most. The novel gives us everything we love about the show and much, much more. In fact, since there really is no linear story, it feels like you're watching a marathon of some great "Justified" stories. It all feels so much better, though, because this time we've got some legitimate and powerful Leonard dialogue and situations to enthrall us.
Also in regards to the show, "Raylan" only helps to reinforce the idea that "Justified" got it right. Olyphant and everyone else in the cast hit all the right notes and we are visualizing something very similar to "Justified" while reading "Raylan." I had to remind myself that Leonard came up with the character first. I almost felt like I would slip into a chicken and egg situation.
"Raylan's" finest achievement is the man of the hour: U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens. He's sly, charming, quick on the draw and witty. He's everything we want in a hero. Leonard gives him a genuineness that makes him the working man's James Bond. Leonard and Givens definitely have more than one great moment here.
"Raylan" packs a punch and it is recommended to anyone who is a fan of Leonard or "Justified" or thrillers in general. Givens can join the Mount Olympus of great series characters from Bob Lee Swagger to Mitch Rapp. Leonard, at 86, is giving more than he's ever given before. And he'll keep on giving too since he plans on writing another Givens novel next and this one we'll relocate Givens to Palm Springs ... can't wait.
Sucker Punches: None. Although, it is interesting that the couple in the beginning of the novel stealing kidneys wear Mr. and Mrs. Obama masks. Could it be a statement on the the overbearing power of ObamaCare? Probably not. But it amused me enough to think so.