Elmore Leonard has been inordinately successful getting his books adapted to the screen. Justified, the TV show based on the character Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens from Pronto, Riding the Rap, and the short story Fire in the Hole (the last adapted for the Justified pilot), is as good as any Leonard adaption. Seeing his characters with such incredible life breathed into him had to have spurred Leonard return to Givens with his novel Raylan (which was to be his last).
Unfortunately, Leonard chose to tell a story in parallel to season 2 of Justified, allowing the show’s writers to view early manuscripts and beat him to the punch. Raylan is composed of three major plotlines (almost three novellas loosely tied together). Two of those plotlines were featured heavily in season 2 of Justified. It’s not that they hew so closely to the show that they bore the reader, it’s that, in my opinion, Justified did them better. Boyd, in particular, is a far more compelling character on the show. Most other characters get far more time in the show to be developed. Raylan works much better when it departs from the stories told by the show.
I take as poor a view of mining companies as Leonard does, but the coal plotline gets a bit preachy. Again, Justified better captures the inner conflict of people in coal country—a desperate need for jobs and a deep-seated desire to be left alone by and distrust of outsiders.
If you’re more of a casual Leonard fan who has seen Justified, I would recommend reading another Leonard novel next. If you’re a diehard Justified fan looking for an introduction to Justified, I would recommend another Leonard novel, perhaps Riding the Rap (which I read and liked) or Pronto (which I haven’t). Fire in the Hole holds up well even after seeing the Justified pilot it spawned, and the other short stories from the collection are solid. But if you’ve read most of Leonard’s work, love Justified, and have read Leonard’s earlier work featuring Givens, then you probably will enjoy this book.
3 of 5 Stars.
Justified is now available on blu-ray.