Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Raylan by Elmore Leonard - Book Review

It's not often I get to review a book that appeals broadly enough to consider both my book reading friends and my bluegrass friends. Raylan, the third book by Elmore Leonard in which Marshall Raylon Givens appears, (Raylan by Elmore Leonard, William Morrow, 263 pages, $14.99 in Trade Paperback) is such a book. Raylan Givens is the hero of the FX television series “Justified” which is set in Harlan, Kentucky and takes place in the eastern Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, and Tennessee area where much of bluegrass music was nurtured and grew among the mountain people and coal miners who live there as well as the present novel, one of three. The television program, featuring bluegrass band “Cumberland River” for much of its background music is a piece of violent Americana depicting an American that's a fur piece from Mayberry. Perhaps it serves to reinforce the worst stereotypes of hillbilly life still found in America. A few years ago, we drove from Pineville, KY through Harlan and then along the dark and deep road back to Big Stone Gap, where we were camped. For the first time the words of Darrell Scott's great song “You'll Never Leave Harlan Alive,” made sense to me. The song says, “Where the sun comes up about 10:00 in the morning, and the sun goes down about three in the day, and you fill your cup with whatever bitter pill you're drinkin', And you spend your life thinkin' of how to get away.” That's the world that Elmore Leanord recreates in Raylon and in Justified, which makes it's season four debut on FX television on January 8th. . Leonard is also the chief writer and Executive Producer of Justified.

Elmore Leonard is one of America's best and most consistent crime writers. He has moved from western fiction to crime fiction through a career spanning more than forty years. He's written series books and stand alones all with a gift for capturing character idiosyncracies with accuracy and concision. Many of his books have been turned into successful movies. It must be said that this is Elmore Leonard not at the top of his game. But that's still pretty good, and this is a diverting, amusing, and interesting story which follows Raylan through many of the venues to be found in the current TV series. Leonard is a master of snappy, laconic dialogue with a pitch perfect ear for the nuances of local language and eye for cultural hot spots. His plots move fast, and if you don't pay attention, you might miss something. He's a reader's writer.

The rather convoluted plot involves Purvis, the local storekeeper in a holler outside Harlan who grows a little weed, sells a little shine, and owns a mountain of coal, his two knockabout sons, a plot to steal people's kidneys and sell them back, a corrupt coal company executive, a few psychopaths, and a beautiful a few more twists a turns. Raylan follows his instincts and his gonads while only killing those who deserve it. There's no use saying anything more about the plot(s) because the fun is in their complexity and inter-relatedness. Much about the telling of Raylan felt more like the treatment for several hour-long screen plays for Justified, but was still more effective than the typical book adaptation of a TV show or a movie. Raylan is both of the communities in which he moves and not in them, having changed sides by joining the law. Nevertheless, his natural inclination is to side with the miner over the mine owner as well as the downcast and troubled over the high and mighty. His situations are fraught with the desparation of those whose lives have improved little as a result of the encroachments of law abiding, civilized life dominated by the monied interests. 

Elmore Leonard

Raylan by Elmore Leonard offers a pleasant diversion into a world few of us have direct personal experience with. Taken there by a master of creating criminal worlds and characters who are likable, dangerous, violent, and scary, we can risklessly soak ourselves in that world. It is impossible to read Raylan without reference the the FX channel's popular crime series “Justified,”but in today's world of tie-ins, product placements, and new media this is neither unusual nor objectionable. Enjoy getting to know Ralan Givens in this novel and following him on television. Avoid contrasting the two. Raylan by Elmore Leonard (William Morrow, 2012, 263 pages, $14.99 in trade paperback) was provided to me by the publisher through TLC booktours in exchange for a fair review. 

Other Stops on Elmore Leonard's Book Tour

Wednesday, December 26th: No More Grumpy Bookseller
Friday, December 28th: Book Addict Katie
Thursday, January 3rd: Helen’s Book Blog
Monday, January 7th: My Life in Not So Many Words
Tuesday, January 8th: Chaotic Compendiums
Thursday, January 10th: Jenny Loves to Read
Wednesday, January 16th: Jenn’s Bookshelves
Monday, January 28th: Luxury Reading
TBD: EmSun