Friday, March 1, 2013

The Raylan Givens 3-Book Collection by Elmore Leonard

An entertaining read, whether you're a fan of Justified or not
This Kindle collection is a repackaging of three previously published Elmore Leonard books, all featuring Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens, the character now made famous by the TV series Justified. The first two works, Pronto and Riding the Rap, are novels originally published in 1993 and 1995, repectively. If you’re buying this volume solely because you’re a fan of Justified, you should be warned that Raylan is not necessarily the star of these books, but rather a member of an ensemble cast. In these novels the bad guys get just as much ink as he does, if not more. The third book in the Kindle file, Fire in the Hole, is a collection of short stories, first published in 2002 under the title When the Women Come Out to Dance. Only one of the stories, entitled “Fire in the Hole,” features Raylan Givens. The other eight stories cover a wide gamut within the crime and western genres and beyond.

The first book, Pronto, begins by introducing us to 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. Over the course of the book, much is revealed about Raylan’s past in Harlan County, the Glynco Academy, and elsewhere. Riding the Rap picks up where Pronto left off. While Pronto was very much a character driven novel, in Riding the Rap the characters are already established and Leonard does little to develop them further. It is the least successful of the three books here, and not much is revealed about Raylan that we didn’t already learn from the first book. 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. “Fire in the Hole,” the novella that’s included here as part of the third book of the same name, is better than either of the previous novels. Raylan, who has served the U.S. Marshal Service in Miami for several years, is sent back to Harlan County, Kentucky, where he was born and raised, to take part in a task force aiming to take down Raylan’s former friend Boyd Crowder, a white supremacist who robs banks and blows up churches. The story will be familiar to those who watch Justified, as the first few episodes of season one were quite faithful to Leonard’s original narrative. The Fire in the Hole collection also contains several excellent short stories that have nothing to do with Raylan.

Whether you're a fan of the Justified TV show or not, Leonard’s skillfully crafted prose is a joy to read. He has a talent for elegant understatement and a brilliant knack for writing clever, snappy dialogue. These books have a lighthearted tone overall, with a wry sense of humor, yet the life-and-death confrontations in the book are still intensely suspenseful.

This Kindle file is well constructed, with a convenient table of contents that links to every chapter. There are about a dozen typographical errors in the entire three-book file, mostly in Pronto. From the nature of the typos, it seems optical character recognition was used to construct the file, but the errors are not annoying enough to hinder your enjoyment of the work. If you’re going to buy one of these books, you might as well buy all three, and in terms of convenience and price, this three-book collection is hard to beat.

Books in this collection

Riding the Rap 
Fire in the Hole 

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