Reviews > Published on January 30th, 2012

'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. 

Get Raylan at Bookshop or Amazon

About the author

Meredith is a writer, editor and brewpub owner living in Houston, Texas. Her four most commonly used words are, "The book was better."

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