Raylan (CBR8 #17)

Let’s get the rating part out of the way first. This was a 3.5 read for me that I am rounding up because the narrator is Brian d’Arcy James* and I love his voice, and what he is able to do with it while narrating the various characters, actions, and dialogue in Leonard’s version of the world.

Second, while Raylan is listed as a novel, it barely qualifies. It has the length certainly (a little over six hours of audio) but the way the story is structured is really closer to three novellas tied together, or a five-episode arc of the television series Justified**.

Also, I should fully admit that some of the rating of this book *might* have more to do with my affection for the characters than it does for the book itself. But, I am often rating a book based on characterization separate from plot, and Leonard has drawn the characters of Raylan and Boyd so clearly that I am a fan.

Raylan follows its titular character through a seemingly regular set up of Marshall Givens most likely problems in Harlan County and its environs. We follow him as he deals with the Crowes, the mining company, Loretta (but sadly, no Mags Bennett**), Boyd and Ava, the plot to steal kidneys, and a young female poker player who is caught up in a bust and mistaken for a bank robber.

You know, a typical day in the life for Raylan Givens.

I say if you are a fan of the author, the series, and good audiobooks this would be a choice for you. But only if you really like all three.

*He originated the role of King George III in Hamilton off Broadway and is in Something Rotten for which he was nominated for a Tony, and was apparently in Spotlight which I haven’t seen. But yes, this is a guy with a great voice and acting chops!

**I have only watched through season three, so the stories and characters in this book were like listening to an alternate universe telling of season two, which I watched relatively recently. It was a nice bit of nostalgia.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. 

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When the Women Come Out to Dance (CBR8 #5)

I’m continuing down my Elmore Leonard path and was off in search of the next Raylan story. Fire in the Hole is the third story, and it’s contained within this collection. When the Women Come Out to Dance is a collection of Leonard’s short stories, and since Audible suggested it and I’ve loved listening to the other Raylan stories: Pronto and Riding the Rap. (This collection of Elmore Leonard’s short fiction’s title was changed to Fire in the Hole capitalize on its connection to FX’s Justified.)

Let’s get the bad out of the way – this was far from my favorite Elmore Leonard experience. There are nine stories in this collection, and I’ll be honest a few of them I don’t remember 24 hours after finishing the audiobook. That has definitely affected my decision to rate this book at only 2 stars. It was merely okay.

Of the ones I remember  there were several of them were good, and a couple were quite good, and one or two I know I’m just missing  bigger story arcs because these are characters related to other Leonard stories. “Sparks” and the titular “When the Women Come Out to Dance” are solid works. Each cover women taking different illegal methods to get beyond a problem and each are well paced if slightly predictable and generally forgettable. I doubt I’ll be remembering them at all in a few weeks.

“Fire in the Hole” and “Karen Makes Out” each highlight some of Leonard’s most well-known characters: Raylan Givens and Karen Sisco. In “Fire in the Hole” Raylan returns to Harlan County and runs afoul of Boyd Crowder. You know the story if you’ve seen season one of Justified. “Karen Makes Out” happens after the events of Out of Sight, with Karen remaining unlucky as far as finding suitable law abiding male companionship. Each was good, but mostly because I was familiar with the characters.

My favorites in this collection were “Tenkiller” and “The Tonto Woman”. “Tenkiller” tells the story of Ben Webster (grandson of Carl Webster from The Hot Kid if you’re familiar – I was not) on his return to Oklahoma following the death of his fiancée. He runs across a family of criminals squatting on his family’s pecan farm and goes about getting back together with the first girl he loved and getting rid of the nuisance on the farm. Too long and meandering (like this review!) but still quite good. My favorite, a four star story on its own was “The Tonto Woman”. This had the crispest pacing and left the reader satisfied but looking for more. That’s my favorite balance in a short story. “The Tonto Woman” is a day in the life type story of a woman returned from twelve years of captivity and resettling amongst life as a literally marked woman. Or is she going to take up with a cattle rustler?

Amazon describes this collection as a series of short sketches that feature strong female characters in trouble. I don’t completely buy it. Most explicitly because there are no women focused on in at least one or two of the stories. Also, we aren’t given enough time with several of the women to really identify if they are strong or merely opportunistic. I know from my viewing of the Justified television series that I feel the Ava character in “Fire in the Hole” is strong, but I don’t know that I can feel that way simply from what we see on the page. Although, I am glad that the producers decided to keep Boyd around and that he was portrayed by the delightful Walton Goggins. I have the same lack of certainty with some of the others, including “Sparks”.

Read at your own choosing, you’ll be better able to tell your own interest level.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. 

Pronto (CBR7 #75)

When trying to decide which book to read for the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge Task 2, a book written by someone over the age of 65, I discovered that Elmore Leonard hadn’t started his Raylan books until he was in his late 60s. Yes! I had been looking for an excuse to read some Leonard, and the Raylan books sounded particularly interesting to me because I have been on and off watching Justified on my Amazon Prime account. I knew I liked the character already, and I knew from interviews and reviews that the show hewed closely to the source materials in the big, important ways.

The story in Pronto the first Raylan book is centered on Harry Arno, bookmaker for the mob. He has been living and working on Miami Beach for decades and has skimmed off enough to have a nice healthy retirement. If only he had pulled the trigger and left when he when he turned 65. At 66, he has been caught up in a federal operation to take down his boss, Jimmy ‘Cap’Capotorto for racketeering. Since Harry was planning to retire to Italy anyway, so Harry figure now’s as good a time as any. Enter U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens who knows Harry’s trick – the bookie ditched him once in an airport while in the marshal’s custody. So Raylan’s determined to find the fugitive’s Italian hideaway before a cold-blooded Sicilian “Zip” does and whacks Arno and anyone else caught with him.

What Pronto boils down to is a chase caper. And it’s a good one. The pace is tight and crisp; the characters pop from the page showing that Leonard was an author in control of his craft. There were a few drawbacks for me notably that the book shows its age. Published in 1993 there were certain phrasings which pulled me out, and there’s a bit of a technology/changing landscape of Miami problem too. Not that Leonard didn’t write about Miami accurately – he absolutely did. It’s just that a lot has happened in the 22 years since this book was published.

I enjoyed this book and am glad I chose to go the audiobook route. I am looking forward to my next adventure with Raylan and Harry, Riding the Rap.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.