Wednesday Review: Pronto and Riding the Rap by Elmore Leonard

Wednesday Sep 29 2010
by Michael

Elmore Leonard has long been considered one of the greatest of the American mystery writers.  However, he is not really a writer of series.  With a few exceptions, his characters do not reappear, and if they do, it is often only once or twice, or in short stories buried in his anthologies.  (Which I suppose could be intentional, as anyone really craving the return of a character has to track down and buy what are typically lower-sellers)

One such character is Raylan Givens.  A Mississippi-born US Marshall working in Florida, when Givens first appears in Pronto, you are not really sure he is the protagonist.  Quiet, unassuming, and not introduced until after forty pages, you get the feeling that he is one of the rubes that Leonard writes so well for his criminal protagonist to take advantage of.  However, as the book progresses, his no nonsense, throwback kind of justice and behaviours makes him not only the most dynamic, but the most likeable character in the book.

 The reason that I am writing about a 17 year old novel is it, and its sequel Riding the Rap, have both just been re-released in paperback to coincide with the new American television series Justified.  Justified, the pilot episode of which is based on third installment in the Raylan Givens series, the short story 'Fire in the Hole' (from the anthology When the Woman came out to Dance) stars Timothy Oliphant as Givens, and reweaves that story with the plots of Pronto and Riding the Rap into a program which has found both popular and critical acclaim. 

 The re-imagining of the characters and the stories as done by show creator Graham Yost is obvious to those who have read the books, but they merge so well with the larger narrative that is being told, that those of us previously familiar with Givens will be pleased with the way that some of the best Givens moments are knit into the program.  Oliphant is great as Givens, and the rest of the cast, made up mainly of television veterans builds a strong base for the program, especially Walton Goggins who plays Boyd Crowder, who serves as a foil to Givens. 

 Many people will not get an opportunity to see Justified on television (currently being shown on SuperChannel), at least until it is on DVD.  However, while you are waiting for it to be released, or having already seen it, have the even longer wait for the second season to begin in Spring 2011, the books are still an excellent read, and a great way to fill some of the hours in between.

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