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Elmore Leonard casts his spell

Not his best work, but good enough to rivet a reader to his down-home Kentucky miscreants.

From the book jacket
From the book jacketRead more

By Elmore Leonard

William Morrow. 263 pp. $26.99

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Reviewed by David Hiltbrand

It probably qualifies as ironic: Elmore Leonard, who has never made a secret of his disdain for screen adaptations of his work, writing a novel based on a TV show,


, that is built around one of his fictional characters.

Of course, the revered crime author has a vested interest here. He's an executive producer of the series on FX. But while this may be an unusually structured tale for Leonard, it's hardly a disappointment.

Raylan is fitted with the old master's inimitable Velcro grip - pick it up for just a few pages and no one is going to be able to tear the book from your hand.

Leonard introduced quick-draw Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens in the 1993 novel Pronto and brought him back for the 1995 sequel Riding the Rap. But the TV Raylan was shaped by the short story "Fire in the Hole" from Leonard's 2002 collection When the Women Come Out to Dance.

"Fire in the Hole" took the marshal from Miami back to his petrified roots in Kentucky and renewed his friendship/antagonism with Boyd Crowder.

Many of the characters from the TV show turn up in this book, including Raylan's boss Art Muller, a dumbed-down Boyd, and, peripherally, Raylan's ex, Winona.

But there are lots of new, colorful miscreants to meet, and a fresh plot. Make that plots. The novel breaks cleanly into three discrete adventures. Maybe Leonard is adopting TV's episodic approach.

The first 14 chapters revolve around a ring of body-organ snatchers who brazenly offer to sell the kidneys back to their original owners.

But how are the Crowe brothers, a pair of dimwit marijuana growers, involved in an operation this sophisticated?

"Coover and Dickie Crowe were still boys in their forties. When they weren't driving around looking for [sex], they hung out at Dickie's house the other side of the mountain watching porn. Coover's house was a mess and smelled, Dickie's was busy inside with his Elvis Presley memorabilia."

Having wrapped up that case, Raylan is assigned to serve as bodyguard for Carol Conlan, the coal company's ruthless Richelieu. She's busily trying to level every mountain in Harlan County, an ambition that doesn't sit well with the locals.

Finally, round about Chapter 23, Raylan heads up to Lexington to track down a trio of photogenic female bank robbers and, while he's at it, a fugitive college coed cardsharp.

Raylan is a fun read, full of the author's trademark effervescent dialogue and delicious digressions. It may be a little too scattered to join Leonard's best work. But the guy is like Satchel Paige: You'd pay good money to watch him pitch batting practice.