I confess to seeing Elmore Leonard’s work on the movie screen than actually reading his novels. The two standing out in my mind involve US Marshall Karen Sisco played by both Carla Guigino (Television, Karen Sisco on ABC) and Jennifer Lopez (Movie, Out of Sight). I confess to liking Carla Guigino, an underrated actress and her take on this character. Jennifer Lopez wasn’t bad; George Clooney just blew everyone off the screen in Out of Sight. Leonard pointed to Clooney as one of the few actors saying his dialogue the way he wrote it.
The other actor is Timothy Olyphant.
After discovering the show Justified on Netflix, I had to read the source material for the show. Unlike some shows, the germ for the show comes from a short story entitled Fire in the Hole rather than an actual novel. While Elmore Leonard wrote two novels featuring Raylan Givens, Pronto and Riding the Rap, ‘Fire in the Hole’ takes place after the two novels as Raylan gets transferred to Kentucky, a place he vowed never to return. Fire in the Hole serves as a good example of a well-constructed short story. It jumps immediately into the action and stays with it until the end. I would say it’s more a long-form story bordering on a novella with Leonard’s trademark dialogue coming rapidly at the reader like the action itself.
The story itself comes from a collection entitled When the Women Come Out to Dance, which also includes another Karen Sisco-centric story entitled ‘Karen Makes Out’. Not all the short stories connect to an established character, but in Karen and Raylan’s case nobody needs to read a previous book to jump into the plot. In ‘Fire in the Hole’, Leonard gives enough backstory about Raylan’s standoff with a gun thug in only a sentence. While reading I felt amazed at the economy of words in the story, yet its simplicity has a genius to it. Yes, readers, less indeed is more. (A lesson I still try to learn.)
While Fire in the Hole came out ten years ago, Leonard enjoys Justified so much he decided to write a new Raylan novel tied into the show’s universe. (If you read ‘Fire in the Hole’ you’ll know what I mean.) Even as novel, the Elmore-Leonard touches still reign. Readers will find no needless adjectives, quick-witted dialogue, as three seemingly separated stories come together with Raylan Givens at the centre.
The novel, called simply Raylan, flew by quickly and it’s hard to not visualize Timothy Olyphant as this character. (The cover doesn’t help either.) While researching this entry, Leonard gave a draft to the show’s writers with his blessing to modify it as they please. It’s a rare feat for a writer to trust others with their work. Elmore Leonard saw many of his works adapted for the small and big screens. Much like fellow writer Stephen King, some adaptations missed the mark playing too loose with the story in the name of screen translation. Justified writers, including Graham Yost who wrote the screenplay for Speed, could shape the series by first knowing what made the stories work. In fact as a writer I want one of those bracelets given to writers and crew members bearing the words ‘What would Elmore Leonard Do?’
The rest of us will have to make do with thoughtfully reading the book a second time around.