Thursday, April 19, 2012

My Ramblings on the Raylan books by Elmore Leonard

So this is part II of my massive ramblings on all things Raylan Givens. See Part I, in which I talk about Justified, here. There are four books that go into this series (so far) and I devoured the entire set in just as many days. I read the books in pretty much the same way I watched the show. Which means I did it totally out of order. Just like with the TV show you can definitely do that, especially if you are already familiar with the characters, but I'm sure it makes much, much more sense to do it in order. The four books are: Pronto, Riding the Rap, Fire in the Hole (a short story in the book When the Women Come Out to Dance) and lastly Raylan. My reading order was totally dictated by what order I could get the books in from the library. So I read them in this order. Raylan, Pronto, Fire in the Hole and lastly Riding the Rap. All four books are great and I loved reading them and watching the show at the same time. Sometimes it doesn't work that way, because there are either too many changes or no changes at all. I think the great thing here is that so far it's just right. Characters that disappear early in the books stick around in the show because they are great visual character (looking at you Dickie Bennett) and some characters are tweaked to better fit the show, but remain essentially the same as in the books. 

What I truly love about all the books is that the characters and the dialogue really drive the story. There are no tricks or gimicks, just good story telling. Much like with the show it would be impossible for me to recap all four stories, but in short there are 2 sections to the series. The first in Florida and the second in Harlan County. I especially love seeing some of the characters cross over, even just in name. Those pesky Crowes seem to pop up everywhere causing trouble and Winona is always in the back of Raylan's mind. 

In the first two books we see Raylan dealing with a bookie named Harry who, while trying to get out of the game, actually ends up getting into deeper and deeper trouble. We are introduced to a US Marshall with a quick trigger finger and a deadpan wit who doesn't suffer fools and will go quite a ways to make things right. In the first book he goes all the way to Florida to bring Harry home after he has given Raylan the slip... twice. In book two we are back in Florida and Raylan takes on some seriously messed up folks as he again has to bring Harry back after he is victim to the worlds most screwed up kidnapping hostage situation. I loved that regardless of where Raylan is, he is always Raylan and it's that personality and his willingness to act instead of just think about it (or talk about it) that gets him ahead, as well as in trouble. I also really enjoy the fact that it's acknowledged that Raylan sometimes acts as though he's in an old western, or that he was born in the wrong time and place. It's a bit of a nod to the fact that Raylan is a very stereotypical character who maybe is trying to fit into that mold, or at the very least, use that stereotype to give himself permission to act in ways that aren't always kosher. For instance, the man is fond of the shootout. 

In the short story and the book Raylan, we find Raylan back in Kentucky after being booted from Florida for one of those shootout incidents. For me this is where the story really gets interesting, because Raylan starts to take on more layers. He isn't just the bad ass Marshall anymore, he's interacting with people who he's known his whole life and who he has complicated relationships with. Things aren't quite so black and white anymore because he is a known entity to all these people. He can't just come in with his hat and boots and put on a cool air before taking someone down, they know his game and they knew before he even had a game, before he was a lawman, back when he was just another worker in the coal mines. The only difference between Raylan and some of the people he goes up against is the fact that he is on one side of the law and they are on the other. That really makes the stories pop because you know that there is some inner debate going on for Raylan and he's trying to figure out where he really fits into all this. 

We also start to see the characters from the show, which, as a fan of the show, is great.  Like I mentioned there are a lot of changes from the book and I can honestly say that I can appreciate the story both ways. They really do compliment each other.  One change I love is that in the short story Boyd Crowder ends up meeting his maker. In the show Walton Goggins was so effective as Boyd that they kept him alive (thank god. He is such a great character.) Then in the latest book, which Leonard just released, Boyd is back! He;s not 100% the same as in the show, but the fact that Leonard made it work so Boyd could stick around and be a thorn in Raylan's side is really great for fans. Before you get to thinking that it's a little soap opera-ish, there is no clear indication that Boyd did die in the short story. We just now that he was shot and that Raylan shoots to kill. An inch one way or the other and the shot isn't fatal. The fact that Raylan tried to put Boyd down becomes a great little piece to their relationship, so it works really well in the book without being hokey. 

So that's a relatively short post about these stories. It doesn't even begin to get into all the ins and outs of the plots, but it does give you a little taste of why I do love these stories and these characters. If you haven't read them, and your looking for some quick, fun reads then I'd give them a go! 

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