'Raylan' by Elmore Leonard

Review: "Raylan" by Elmore Leonard

U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens is back, juggling three cases with his laconic ease and typical shoot-first-ask-questions-never approach to law-making. Elmore Leonard’s in fine form here, with a breezy novel that effortlessly weaves together three plot lines originally planned as separate short stories for his beloved character. The inspiration for FX’s Justified, starring Timothy Olyphant as the behatted lawman, Raylan first appears in Leonard’s novels Pronto and Riding the Rap, before he pops up in the short story “Fire in the Hole,” which became the basis for the Justified pilot.  

His return is brusque and gratifying, as Raylan deals with organ trafficking, coal company corruption, bank-robbing and good old-fashioned murder. At only 263 large-printed pages, each brief case could feel rushed, each fleeting character unrefined. But Leonard’s an old hat at this, as deft with words as Raylan is with his Glock, quickly sketching out fully-realized characters and painting scenes with depth and color in one quick, sprightly paragraph. If brevity is the soul of wit, Leonard—and Raylan—are as witty as they come.

As gripping are the cases, nimble the action and keen the characters, Leonard’s dialogue is his true gift. Each character’s voice is so distinct, so wonderfully nuanced, that they quicken in our ears and begin to color our own cadence of speech.

Raylan told the officers he didn’t expect Angel would resist, but you never knew for sure. He said, ‘You hear gunfire come runnin, all right?’

One of the troopers said, ‘You want, we’ll bust in the door for you.’

‘You’re dyin to,’ Raylan said. ‘I thought I’d stop by the desk and get a key.’

Raylan the book and Raylan the character both offer such refreshingly direct momentum, barreling through cases and pages and problems and women with an easy, straight-forward dispatch that never feels hurried.  Leonard and Raylan know what they’re doing, and they don’t mess around. They get to the heart of the problem with offhand swiftness, abstaining from undue moralizing or complication. Raylan lets go as many criminals as he catches in the novel, not bothering with pot-growers or drunks or thieves when he’s on the case of murderers.

Raylan is darkly comic, colored with Raylan’s own economical charm. When he’s not collaring crooks and lending a hand to the various impermanent partners to which he’s assigned, the tall drink of water’s getting flattered by every woman in the book, which has quite a few. Raylan boasts a lion’s share of bad-ass babes, from Layla, the gorgeous kidney-hocking nurse to Carol, the ball-busting coal executive, to Jackie Nevada, the 20-year-old gambling prodigy who might be more of a handful than even Raylan can manage. They all want Raylan, and who can blame them? Leonard’s created an icon with ease, a terse yet honorable lawman who shoots to kill but minds his manners and still sells a joke.

The concision of Leonard’s writing is invigorating and unique, but as much as I loved the bracing pace of Raylan, I can’t help but miss Raylan the man already. Get back to it, Leonard. 

Image of Raylan: A Novel
Author: Elmore Leonard
Price: $8.85
Publisher: William Morrow (2012)
Binding: Hardcover, 272 pages

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Comments

Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies January 30, 2012 - 2:26pm

Yeah, I'm a big fan of the series, one of my favorite things on TV. Didn't know this was out, may have to pick it up! Great review.

Meredith's picture
Meredith from Houston, Texas is reading Neverworld Wake by Marisha Pessl January 30, 2012 - 2:28pm

Thank you!

Joshua Chaplinsky's picture
Joshua Chaplinsky from New York is reading Stories of YOUR Life January 30, 2012 - 2:29pm

Timothy Olyphant is a badass. That is all.

Meredith's picture
Meredith from Houston, Texas is reading Neverworld Wake by Marisha Pessl January 30, 2012 - 2:31pm

You're not wrong, my friend.

Gary Borders's picture
Gary Borders January 30, 2012 - 2:35pm

Nice job, Mere. Elmore Leonard truly is a master of dialogue and can still crank 'em out at 86!

R.Moon's picture
R.Moon from The City of Champions is reading The Last Thing He Wanted by Joan Didion; Story Structure Architect by Victoria Lynn Schimdt PH.D; Creating Characters by the editors of Writer's Digest January 30, 2012 - 2:38pm

Great article! Love Elmore, one of my favorites. His handle on dialogue is simply amazing. In the middle of Rum Punch, again...

Meredith's picture
Meredith from Houston, Texas is reading Neverworld Wake by Marisha Pessl January 30, 2012 - 2:44pm

Thanks!

R.Moon's picture
R.Moon from The City of Champions is reading The Last Thing He Wanted by Joan Didion; Story Structure Architect by Victoria Lynn Schimdt PH.D; Creating Characters by the editors of Writer's Digest January 30, 2012 - 2:53pm

I think every Leonard book I own has been highlighted, underlined and marked in the margins. I made my decision: If I could sit down with any one living author, it'd be Elmore...

Meredith's picture
Meredith from Houston, Texas is reading Neverworld Wake by Marisha Pessl January 30, 2012 - 3:00pm

He's simply wonderful. I have no idea how he does it; he's singular.

Dennis's picture
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Dennis from Los Angeles is reading Goblin: A Novel In Six Novellas by Josh Malerman January 30, 2012 - 4:56pm

Yep, one of my favorite authors.  I've read about 75% of his work.  Favorites could be: Killshot, 52 Pick-Up, Unknownman #89 and Rum Punch.  There's no one else like him.

R.Moon's picture
R.Moon from The City of Champions is reading The Last Thing He Wanted by Joan Didion; Story Structure Architect by Victoria Lynn Schimdt PH.D; Creating Characters by the editors of Writer's Digest January 30, 2012 - 5:00pm

Get Shorty still blows my mind... I ordered, for Christmas, an autographed copy of it... And I still have yet to see the movie...