Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Pronto by Elmore Leonard

A Kentucky Marshal takes on the Miami mob
I rarely read contemporary fiction, but I’m a big fan of the Justified TV series, and have always liked the movies based on Elmore Leonard’s books. This is the first book I’ve read by Leonard. I approached it hoping to find the gritty atmosphere, clever banter, and unexpected plot twists that I have come to enjoy in the film and TV adaptations of his work. Not only was I not disappointed, I was pleasantly surprised by Leonard’s skillfully crafted prose. Though he writes in short, choppy, often incomplete sentences, he has an admirable command of the English language and a talent for elegant understatement. His characters are well drawn, with complex pasts, and the plot is exciting and engaging throughout.

Despite the publisher’s repackaging of this book as a Justified-related title, it was originally published in 1993. Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens is not so much the star of the novel as he is a member of an ensemble cast. For much of the book, our attention is centered on Harry Arno, a 65-year-old World War II veteran and longtime Miami bookie. The feds, in an attempt to nail Arno’s mobster boss, spread the rumor that Harry is stealing from his employers. Raylan is assigned to protect Harry, but when Harry flees for his life, thus becoming a fugitive, it’s Raylan’s job to apprehend him. As the book goes on, Raylan becomes a bigger part of the story. Though he’s stationed in Miami for this book, we do learn quite a bit about his earlier life in Harlan County, the Glynco Academy, and elsewhere. Fans of Justified will also recognize mobster Tommy Bucks, who appeared in the pilot episode of the series.

Leonard has a wry sense of humor, and the book overall has a lighthearted tone, yet the life-and-death confrontations in the book are still intensely suspenseful. Leonard has such a talent for writing snappy dialogue, at times he gets a little carried away. You sometimes wonder why the two characters facing off don’t just shut up and shoot each other. But that would spoil the fun. Pronto is a lively read with hardly a dull moment. I look forward to reading the rest of the Raylan Givens books, as well as anything else of Leonard’s I can get my hands on.

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