Elmore Leonard is one of America’s greatest living crime-writers. Nothing about Raylan is going to change that. Still, the new book does go to show that even the best have their off days.

Raylan is the first novel to focus entirely on Kentucky-born Deputy U.S. Marshall Raylan Givens, who was previously featured in the novels Pronto and Riding the Rap and then elevated to a starring role for the short story “Fire in the Hole.” That Leonard has chosen now to finally give Raylan a book of his own is certainly no coincidence, as the character is currently the star of the hit FX series Justified, in which he is portrayed by Timothy Olyphant. Leonard began writing this new novel after being impressed with Olyphant’s work on the show, so yeah, there’s a hint of a cash-in here. But, heck, Leonard did create the damn guy, so if anyone deserves to cash in on the character it’s him.

The problem, though, is that book actually reads like a quick cash-in, too. It feels less like a complete novel, with a story Leonard just had to tell, and more like a hastily thrown together work meant to give Justified fans something to do in-between episodes. And while Leonard on autopilot is still quite a bit more entertaining that a lot of other writers out there, it’s also a far-cry from a truly motivated Leonard, and that’s what makes this one so disappointing.

The book contains not one but three distinct tales. In the first, Raylan is on the trail of a villainous nurse and her hired-thug accomplice, who have come up with one heck of a unique criminal enterprise – they knock their victims out, remove their kidneys, and then force them to pay to get the organs back once they wake up. This is the strongest section of the novel, as the pair of kidney thieves are both fun, signature Leonard character-types, and their scheme is certainly odd enough to hold a reader’s interest. But just when this story seems to be hitting a tension-filled high point, it is suddenly over and wrapped-up, and you’re left fairly confused because the book’s description made it sound like this was the book’s one and only story but you’re only a third of the way into the page-count.

The book then awkwardly shifts to its second story, concerning Raylan being assigned to security detail for Carol Conlan, a ruthless mining executive in town to try to win over an anxious populace upset over her company’s aggressive policies. This also puts Raylan back in direct contact with his former-friend turned sometimes-nemesis Boyd Crowder, who Carol has hired to be both her personal driver and take care of some more nefarious deeds on the side. If you need any proof of Leonard’s willingness to sell himself out, look no further than this – Leonard’s original Boyd was killed at the end of “Fire in the Hole,” but the author has retconned that here, obviously due to the character’s popularity on Justified. I was reminded of Michael Crichton ignoring Ian Malcolm’s death in his Lost World novel after Jeff Goldblum’s beloved performance in Jurassic Park.

As with the kidney thieves, the Carol Conlan story soon comes to what feels like a premature end, and unfortunately the book takes it home with the weakest of its three tales, as Raylan is hunted by Delroy, a villainous club-owner who stages bank robberies with a trio of strung-out but beautiful women. At the same time, Raylan also finds himself getting involved with a young college student and poker hustler named Jackie Nevada. While Delroy is an amusing enough bad guy, this final section is really brought down by the Jackie stuff, and the corny romantic angle between her and Raylan feels incredibly out-of-place, as if Leonard wedged it in near the end just to let Raylan end the book on a happy note.

Fans of Justified will probably find certain segments of the book somewhat jarring, as the series producers clearly had access to the book before filming the second season – a number of scenes from Raylan were lifted and put word-for-word into the second season, which means you relive them here but always in a slightly different context. For instance, the dumb but deadly brothers Dickie and Coover Bennett from Justified appear in Raylan as well, but here they are actually Dickie and Coover Crowe, cousins of Dewey Crowe (who also not surprisingly shows up in the book). While reading, it takes a moment or two to get over little things like that. I suppose it’s not fair to allow it to bother me, but I think it might just be because I feel like Justified is a stronger piece overall than Raylan, and thus the scenes played a little better on the show – although I’ll admit the Carol Conlan segment might be a little better here in the book, as on the show (where she was named Carol Johnson) the whole thing felt like an unnecessary diversion from the season’s main story arc.

The good news is that a lot of the usual Leonard elements are in play here: the memorable characters, the clean and simple writing style, and – of course – the too-cool-for-school dialogue (which manages to feel both realistic and unrealistic at the same time – while Leonard’s dialogue is peppered with funny sayings and “ism’s” that always feel genuine to the region he is writing about, I still find it somewhat strange that characters who have just met in Leonard stories always begin immediately talking in short-hand with each other, as if they’ve known each other for years).

But, still, there’s just something about the haphazard style of storytelling that rubbed me the wrong way while reading it. If these were three unrelated short stories about Raylan I might be a little more forgiving, but jamming them together with the slightest of connective threads and calling it a novel just feels sloppy. On top of that, the first two stories both ended just when I thought they were getting interesting, and I really can’t forgive the snorer of a finale. Essentially, this reads like what I suspect it was – something Leonard quickly conceived and finished in order to strike while the Justified iron is hot. I sort of wonder if Leonard has never really seen Raylan as the sort of character who can carry his own full-length tales. That would explain not only his supporting roles up to this point, but also possibly why even this novel is essentially a collection of short stories, as well.  Whatever the case, the news that Leonard is once again including Raylan in another upcoming book has me hoping he puts a little more thought into it this time. Raylan hasn’t turned me off Leonard’s writing or the character, but nor do I feel like it represents the author at his best, and it sadly doesn’t really hold a candle to the television series its main character inspired.

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