Friday, October 12, 2012

Riding the Rap by Elmore Leonard

An inferior sequel to Pronto
Originally published in 1995, Riding the Rap is the sequel to Elmore Leonard’s 1993 novel Pronto. Both books feature Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens, the character who now stars in the television series Justified. This second installment picks up where Pronto left off, and Harry Arno is in trouble again. Looking to finally retire for good, Harry the bookie sets out to collect all the outstanding debts from his clients. When he goes missing, his ex-girlfriend Joyce worries that foul play might be involved, so she asks her new boyfriend Raylan to look into it.

Pronto was very much a character driven novel. Leonard introduced us to a crop of intriguing personalities, complete with complex pasts. In Riding the Rap, the characters are already established, and Leonard does little to develop them further. They are merely chess pieces arranged in an intricate cat and mouse game. Little is revealed about Raylan, Joyce, or Harry that we didn’t already learn from the first book. In fact, Raylan’s story tends to take a back seat to the interaction between the brutal yet bumbling criminals. The bad guys in this book are nowhere near as interesting as the mobsters in Pronto. Only one new character, Reverend Dawn the psychic, stands out as a compelling new addition to the cast. Despite all the twists and turns in the plot, there are few surprises, as Raylan spends the entire book working to find out things that Leonard has already revealed to the reader.

Despite my complaints, Leonard is an entertaining writer. His snappy prose is an effortless joy to read. Like a yummy bag of junk food, once you pick up the book it’s difficult to put it down. Upon completion, however, you may scratch your head and ask, “Is that it?” Riding the Rap is a better than average crime thriller, but should by no means be considered a must-read by fans of Justified or other Leonard enthusiasts.

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