Monday, June 16, 2014

Review of Raylan by Elmore Leonard (William Morrow, 2012)

Marshall Raylan Givens has returned to his Kentucky roots after some time in Florida.  He’s a cop who always gets his man, usually with a bullet, and has no trouble getting the ladies either.  On raiding a motel room Raylan finds a known drug dealer in the bath, both of his kidneys removed.  A short while later the victim is offered the chance to buy the kidneys back for a substantial fee.  Raylan is soon on the trail of the thieves, but they also have their eye on him and his body parts.  To keep him busy, he’s also dealing with the death of an elderly miner shot by coal mining executives in supposed self-defence, a group of women bank robbers, and a young, pretty poker gambler who has skipped detention after a raid on an illegal game.

Rather than consisting of a single extended storyline with a couple of minor subplots, as with most novels, Raylan is made up of four interconnected stories told as three relatively distinct episodes.  The effect is the story has the feel of a television series, rather than a movie (and it might well have been written with TV in mind given the series Justified is based around the lead character).  The result is, however, that each story is too linear and underdeveloped.  Leonard could have done much more with the kidney theft episode, for example, with a more challenging investigation and chase.  Instead, everything falls into place quite quickly, though the resolution is elevated by a nice concluding scene.  The same applies to the other two episodes.  Despite the truncated stories, what makes the book worth reading is Leonard’s storytelling and prose.  He paints memorable characters, quickly conveys a sense of place and context, and is very good at depicting scenes, with a good ear for dialogue.  As a consequence, despite the shortcomings of the plot, Raylan is an engaging and entertaining read.

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