It’s no surprise that Elmore Leonard is one of the most adapted novelists of all time; his writing is terse and cinematic, and he paints such vivid pictures of setting and character with unfussy descriptions and crafty dialogue that his words play out like a motion picture in your imagination. It also doesn’t hurt that he’s good at creating suspense and likes to tell stories about cunning con men, hard-nosed gangsters, slick bounty hunters, and other kinds of folk that aren’t too hard to pass off as “cool.” And if you’re a fan of the television series Justified, you’ll certainly enjoy Leonard’s latest novel, Raylan for the rare instance of book-inspires-film-inspires-book meta-adaptation that it is.
Justified, you see, is based on a Leonard short-story entitled “Fire in the Hole,” which features the recurring character Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens, a modern-day lawman with the spirit of a cowboy and the Stetson to prove it (the pilot episode itself is a massively faithful adaptation of that story). Raylan’s the kind of cool cat with a fast draw, a mean slow-burn, and a few pithy one-liners; in one particular episode, he provides a stern warning to a menacing bad guy by tossing a bullet at him and saying, “The next one’s comin’ faster.” As portrayed by the perfectly-cast Timothy Olyphant and guided by series creator Graham Yost, Raylan has become one of the best characters on the small screen, and the success of the television show inspired Leonard (who also executive produces and writes for the show) to dust off Raylan’s hat and get him back at the center of a new novel.
At just 263 pages, Raylan’s a quick read and it’s every bit as visceral and exciting as the TV series. In fact, Raylan reads like three interwoven episodes of the show, and fans will recognize characters and scenes that were culled from several of the televised scripts, even though the novel itself is not a strict adaptation of any particular part of the series. You’ll recognize kidney thieves and corporate coal mining thugs and lady bank robbers, all of whom appeared in the most recent seasons of Justified. But if you’ve never seen the show, fear not, because you can certainly enjoy Raylan for the entertaining crime fiction that it is.
So check out Raylan, embrace Justified (which is, as of this writing, about to wrap up its third stellar season), and then go back and read Pronto and Riding the Rap, the first two novels to feature Givens. He’s a now-iconic character and one of the few guys who can get away with wearing that hat.