three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
58-May-June-2012
user_rating: 
0

737176.pngOne of America’s leading crime novelists, Elmore Leonard, has authored dozens of books, many of which have been adapted for film and television. He had already written two novels and a novella about Raylan Givens (Fire in the Hole [2001], Pronto [1993], and Riding the Rap [1995]) before the character became the basis for the television show Justified. Recently reviewed: Djibouti ( 3.5 of 5 Stars Jan/Feb 2011).

The Story: Raylan is Leonard’s his first book about the laconic coal miner-turned-U.S. marshal and his Kentucky milieu since the FX television show debuted, and in this modern-day Western, fans will recognize some overlap with the show’s second season. In the stories Leonard weaves together, highlights include Raylan’s dealings with a small-time marijuana ring turned kidney thief, a coal-mining executive accustomed to getting her way (legally or not), and a college student who overplays her hand in the world of professional poker. In all, Raylan has his work cut out for him.
William Morrow. 272 pages. $26.99. ISBN: 9780062119469

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"[T]he reader could be forgiven for assuming that Raylan is less a novel than a collection of novellas in disguise. … Leonard is having fun with the structure of the crime novel, tossing aside the rules of cohesion in favor of keeping his narrative light on its feet, so it can run in unexpected directions." Olen Steinhauer

San Francisco Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"I haven’t seen Justified on FX, but you don’t have to have seen it either to enjoy the low-key dramatic splendors of Elmore Leonard’s new novel, Raylan. … [T]he alacrity and buoyancy of Leonard’s narrative, which rushes along fueled by the dramatic edge of his brilliant dialogue and brings every bad guy (and girl) to justice, makes a reader want to stand up and shout: ‘Mission accomplished!’" Alan Cheuse

Wall Street Journal 4 of 5 Stars
"The smarter crooks give Raylan grudging respect; his fellow lawmen grant him their highest praise: ‘You’re doin’ a job the way we like to see it done.’ The same can be said of the 86-year-old Elmore Leonard, who with Raylan has written his most entertaining book in years." Tom Nolan

Barnes & Noble Review 3.5 of 5 Stars
"As a novel, Raylan is a casual endeavor, Leonard having fun with a character who’s gained a measure of popularity. … The violence here has the swift kick of a good, mean joke. It makes you wince and grin at the same time." Charles Taylor

Cleveland Plain Dealer 3.5 of 5 Stars
"It seems [that series creator Graham] Yost and his writers, who famously wear wristbands that say ‘WWED’ (‘What Would Elmore Do?’), are better at creating female characters than the creator himself. Whatever the case, neither product would exist without the other, and, in a weird form of artistic voyeurism, it’s a hoot to see the seeds of Leonard’s ideas grow into money crops, season after season in Justified." Andrea Simakis

Oregonian 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Raylan [is] not really a novel but more of a Justified sampler with three loosely connected stories. … That doesn’t mean it’s a ‘novelization’ or a bad book. It’s a little sloppy and episodic, more like a TV show than a movie, but the dialogue is sly and offhand and there are enough in-jokes and overlapping characters to keep the Leonard message boards busy for weeks." Jeff Baker

Onion A.V. Club 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Raylan is far from the best book Elmore Leonard has ever written. … The usual positives for a Leonard novel—crackerjack dialogue, entertaining side characters—are all here; they’re just searching for a stronger center." Todd VanDerWerff

Critical Summary

Several reviewers went out of their way to say that fans of Elmore Leonard will enjoy Raylan whether or not they are following Justified. But nearly every review focused on its relationship with the show, suggesting that viewers are the target audience. Few seemed to mind, noting that Justified is one of the best adaptations of Leonard’s work and that it’s fun to see how the veteran crime novelist treats his character differently from the show’s writers. In fact, the most negative reviews of Raylan suggest that the show’s writers have done a better job treating the lawman and his various antagonists, rendering Leonard’s new book "a complicated cultural artifact" (Onion A.V. Club) rather than a page-turner.