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Sunday, 28 July 2013

‘Raylan’ by Elmore Leonard

Published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson,
7 February 2013.
ISBN: 978-1-7802-2230-1

This book is based on the Emmy award-winning TV series Justified, Raylan by Elmore Leonard. Raylan Givens is a US Federal Marshal whose job is arresting fugitive felons. Givens is essentially an old-fashioned hero from Wild West stories who enforces the law, is never first to draw his gun, but when he does shoot shoots to kill.

The story is set in Kentucky hillbilly country and is (or appears to be) a compilation of three episodes of the TV series all featuring female lawbreakers. In the first story Layla, a nurse with experience of transplant operations, and her lover Cuba Franks kidnap people and remove their kidneys for sale to hospitals. In the second, Carol Conlan, ruthless executive of a strip coal mining company, coldbloodedly shoots the elderly retired miner Otis Culpepper who has resisted the pollution caused by the mining companys activities and then orders one of her subordinates to take the blame and plead self-defence. In the third, Givens is searching for a young woman gambler, Jackie Nevada, whom Givens believes is also one of three girls carrying out bank robberies organised by a criminal called Delroy Lewis.

These stories are told as one with links provided not only by Givens but also by other characters who make appearances in one or another of the stories: the crafty elderly Pervis Crowe, a large-scale marijuana farmer, whose bone-headed sons are involved with Laylas and Cubas schemes, makes an appearance in the second story when he refuses to sell his land to Carol Conlans mining company. Jackie Nevada while on the road is taken up by Harry Burgoyne for whom Cuba Franks had worked at one time. And Carols shooting by Marion Culpepper, widow of the murdered Otis, occurs in the second and third stories.

There is so much in Leonards writing to admire such as his terse and laconic prose style and his use of dialogue to illuminate character: his famous 10 Rules of Writing should be required reading for crime writers. But in my view this adaptation of episodes of the TV series is not particularly successful at least for readers who do not know the series. It gives the impression of incoherence. It might have been less confusing if the stories had been told as three separate narratives with interlocking strands. Readers who already know Leonards work will like Raylan but it would be better for readers who have not previously read any of Leonards novels to begin with titles such as Get Shorty and Maximum Bob.
Reviewer: Radmila May

Elmore Leonard was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, October 11, 1925. His father worked as an executive for General Motors Corporation, and from 1927 to 1934, Leonard, his parents and older sister, Margaret, moved several times to Dallas, Oklahoma City and Memphis before finally settling in Detroit in 1934.

In the fifth grade, in 1935, Leonard showed the first sign of wanting to write fiction. He wrote a play inspired by the book, All Quiet on the Western Front, recently serialized in a Detroit newspaper; though it was the 1930 film version he recalls more vividly. He staged the play in the classroom, using desks as the barbed wire of no man’s land. In 1943, at the age of 17, Leonard graduated from The University of Detroit High School, and tried to join the Marines, but was rejected because of poor vision. He was subsequently drafted and assigned to the Seabees, the fighting construction battalion of the United States Navy. He served for a little more than a year and a half in the Admiralty Islands and the Philippines before returning home in January of 1946. Leonard enrolled in the University of Detroit and majored in English and Philosophy. In 1947, Elmore Leonard’s father left General Motors and bought an auto dealership in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Upon graduation, Leonard planned to work for him, but his father died of a heart attack six months after the move to New Mexico, ending any thoughts he might have had of selling automobiles.
He married Beverly Cline in 1949 and went to work for the Campbell Ewald advertising agency. He soon became an ad writer but wrote Western stories on the side, selling mostly to pulp magazines, and to men’s magazines like Argosy, and one story to the Saturday Evening Post. In 1961, Leonard quit his job at the ad agency to write full time. It would be a long, but clearly marked, road to success. Leonard began selling his work to Hollywood on a regular basis. Leonard’s books were now getting glowing reviews. He grew in stature and turned out well-received novels such as Freaky Deaky, Killshot, Maximum Bob and his “Hollywood” book, Get Shorty, which in 1995 was made into a hit movie by Barry Sonnenfeld and catapulted him to even greater fame. In 2005, at the age of 80, he wrote his fortieth novel, The Hot Kid, featuring his iconic marshal, Carl Webster, receiving some of the best reviews of his long career. That same year, he received the prestigious Cartier’s Diamond Dagger Award in England and The Raymond Chandler Award at the Noir in Festival in Courmayeur, Italy. More awards followed:  The F. Scott Fitzgerald award in 2008; the PEN USA Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009. In 2008, Elmore’s son, Peter Leonard, published his first novel, Quiver, and father and son began doing bookstore appearances and book festivals together.  It has been a satisfying experience for Elmore to share the stage with his son.  He’s happy that writing has turned into a family business.
In late 2010, Djibouti was published; a fun romp through the world of Somali pirates and home grown Al Qaeda terrorists, seen through the eyes of a documentary filmmaker. 
Today, inspired by Justified, based on his novella, Fire in the Hole (2000), Elmore wrote his 45th novel, Raylan.  Parts of this novel have been incorporated into the second and third season of Justified.  “I can pick up Raylan’s story anywhere,” Elmore said.  It’s like visiting with an old friend.”
Elmore Leonard lives in Bloomfield Village, Michigan.  He has five children, twelve grandchildren and five great grandchildren.

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