I’ve been an Elmore Leonard fan since my post-collegiate days working for a mystery publisher. Not just because he took the time to talk to a lowly assistant–although that was rare, even with my superior coffee-fetching skills. But because the man has an ear. You don’t read an Elmore Leonard novel. You hear it. Everyone from the dimmest bulb (and there are many) to the fastest trigger knows how to jaw. (Whether they talk themselves in or out of trouble is up for debate.)
Happily, there’s little about Leonard that suggests he’s spent much alone time with the shaggy and shady characters that populate his fiction. Well, nothing but a certain twinkle in the eye that hints at the affection he seems to feel for them, no matter how petty their desires may be.
Leonard’s latest release, Raylan, is a uniquely guilty pleasure. As I can only hope you know (or will soon discover), the title character has found his way onscreen in the FX series Justified, starring Timothy Olyphant. The show is every bit as good as Leonard’s most famous movie adaptations, Get Shorty and Out of Sight; but the open, episodic nature of series television offers an experience all its own. Though the source material is clearly Leonard’s fiction, the character is now part prose creation, part televised interpretation. For me, a lot of the fun in reading Raylan the novel comes from seeing where the two overlap and where they part ways. Do they complement each other? Fill in the blanks? In this case, it’s yes to both.
Raylan begins with a case about a couple of marijuana dealers turned organ thieves–a premise that happened to appear in the episode of Justified that aired Tuesday night. I can’t say yet what the two have in common beyond the premise, but I can say that the novel lets us get closer to Raylan’s fellow marshall, Rachel, than the series has so far. I’ve always hoped she could hold her own with Raylan and the chuckleheads they have to wrangle. Now I know. Some of the characters we know and love. Some are wholly the novel’s own. Most importantly, we get lots of Raaaaay-lan.
And if the Raylan we imagine looks a lot like Timothy Olyphant, we have Elmore Leonard’s blessing. In a recent New York Post interview, he said Olyphant “does the character exactly the way he saw it.” Sure, the series may show more of Raylan’s private life (read: sex). But television’s a visual medium, right? Long as Raylan has the hat, the drawl and the mouth, he’s my hero.