Sunday, February 5, 2012

Raylan by Elmore Leonard

by Elmore Leonard

I've never seen the show Justified, nor have I read any of Elmore Leonard's books, but given the collective lusting over the TV show, I decided to take a look when offered a review copy of Leonard's Raylan. This being the third book featuring US Marshall Raylan Givens, they even put Timothy Olyphant's pretty, pretty face on the cover. No, crime novels aren't my usual bag, but why not take a chance? Surely, there is some reason for all this fuss.


People, is it Olyphant? Are the TV writers better? I genuinely want to know because Raylan was … not good. Really, extremely not good. As in, I found it a chore to give it the first third of the book to win me over (in this case, about 95 pages). The entire time, I kept unconsciously making faces that had my husband laughing and saying things like, "Well, now I almost want to read it because you're hating it so much."

I think it's only fair to give books a chance, since some are slow-burners that don't seem like anything special until about, yes, one-third of the way through, and then, bam — you're in it. Very, very rarely do I not make it to that "honest try" cut-off. And to be honest, I don't often abandon books. (I made it through this one, didn't I?) This will only be the second time in over a year that I've put a book down without finishing. Most of the time, I'm at least curious to see how it all shakes out, even if it's not that great of a book.

The basic premise of Raylan is that someone is stealing people's kidney's and selling them back to the person for a high price. The surgery appears professionally done, and Raylan Givens decides to investigate. Along the way, he talks to a lot of backwoods Kentucky assholes and drug dealers, and the dialogue is just … Well, it's stupid. It thinks it's clever, but it's this:

"Who you think he's talking to?"

"The brothers," Rachel said "I don't mean the brothers, I mean Coover and Dickie."

They sat in the car waiting. Finally Cuba got out of the Cadillac and came toward them, taking his time.

"Got the stroll down," Rachel said.

"Can feel he's a dude." Raylan said.

"I might go for some of that," Rachel said, "he didn't boost cars."

Can feel he's a dude? Really? And oh sure, because he's black, we gotta make a 'brothers' joke. Gee, when we just came off the lovely phrase "Sorta Rican," just pages before. And the term "Taco Mafia." Aren't you all such a clever bunch? Christ.

I may have said aloud more than once while reading, "Oh shut the fuck up!" There are all sorts of non-sequiturs and asides that seem to have no purpose, and if the characters aren't idiots, then they're boring. Yes, in those 95 pages, Raylan Givens is boring. I did not give a shit how many times he's killed a man, or why he thinks it's okay to offer semi-creepy advice to 14 year-old girls, or where he thinks the best ribs in Memphis are.

And the plot? Come on. We know Raylan's headed for an icy bath of his own because the book jacket says so. I know that crime novels are supposed to be puzzles that we want to work out, but again, if I'm not made to care, why stick around? From the other reviews I've seen, apparently this book is a three-act with two other stories being involved later, separate from the kidneys, but nothing made me want to find out what they were. Where I left off, our villains — whom we've known the entire time — have just drugged Raylan and are about to get him into the tub.

And of course everything will turn out all right in the end because there's a TV show that isn't canceled yet. The show has to be an improvement. It has to be. Smart people watch the show that I cannot picture enjoying this book. If anything, this book screams, Phone it in and cash the check.

What I want to know is — Who are these blurb writers? Who honestly believes this is work from "the best suspense writer in America" and that his work is "pure pleasure?" Who are these people and are they referring to other books? Are they respectfully indulgent because they've enjoyed his previous work? The man's written 40 books — some of them must be decent, right? I'm trying to be fair here, without just groaning, "It suuuuuuuucks," then leaving it at that.

The only way I could possibly recommend this book is if you have some masochistic desire to compare it to Justified. All I can say is that, with a to-read stack of over 25 books, the hour and a half I wasted on this book was entirely too much time. Onward!

Full Disclosure: William Morrow (HarperCollins) sent me this book, and I thank them for the gesture, and I really, honestly tried to be fair with this review.


  1. I thought we were friends....

  2. I don't know who you are Anonymous, so I can't respond!

  3. I want to pick it up (and not buy it) to see how horrible it is!

  4. If you see it in the library, I suppose! I don't think it's officially out yet -- I think the release date is next Tuesday? But yes, I am wondering what other people think because I very rarely have such an adverse reaction to a book.

  5. I've seen the first season of the show, and haven't read any of the novels - maybe the first Raylan novel was better while now he was just looking to make a quick buck off the success of the show?