If you’ve been watching and enjoying “Justified” the past couple of years, you probably know that the FX series about the U.S. marshal dealing with hillbillies, meth dealers and killers in the hills of Kentucky is taken from the work of Elmore Leonard, one of the most beloved writers of crime drama.
The lead character in the show, Raylan Givens, has appeared in a couple of Leonard novels, “Pronto” and “Riding the Rap,” and “Justified” itself is based on a Leonard short story, “Fire in the Hole.”
Leonard has returned to Kentucky and the world of Raylan Givens in “Raylan,” a recent novel that some “Justified” fans will find familiar.
“Raylan” follows Givens as he deals with a marijuana-dealing family, a double-dealing coal company representative and a card-dealing poker player who happens to be a Butler University student from Indianapolis.
A couple of those plot points should seem especially familiar if you’ve watched the show, but Leonard — who apparently shared some storylines with the writers of the series — threw in a few twists. Marijuana-dealing brothers Dickie and Coover don’t answer to their mother, Mags Bennett, but to their father, and they’re involved in organ-snatching. And Carol, the coal company executive sent to Harlan County to persuade property owners to give up their mountain, is more dangerous here.
To be honest, the book feels a little half-baked. Is it because I knew and loved the TV versions of these stories and characters first? Maybe. But the coal company story goes nowhere and the storyline about the card-playing college student feels truly tacked on.
As much as I loved seeing Boyd Crowder, Raylan’s longtime friend and sometimes nemesis, in the book, he doesn’t have a lot to do.
And frankly I can’t imagine the Raylan Givens I’m familiar with doing some of the things Leonard has his character do in this book.
What happens when an author’s characters take on a life of their own? Well, Arthur Conan Doyle killed off Sherlock Holmes when he became something more to readers than to the author.
I’m sure Leonard — who wrote genre classics like “Get Shorty” and “Out of Sight” — can live with the TV incarnation of his Kentucky lawman. And thanks to the TV show, viewers can embrace whichever they prefer.