Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The end of "Justified," and the disappointing Elmore Leonard novel "Raylan"

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FX's underrated crime drama "Justified" ended earlier this year after six consistently good seasons. I streamed the first five seasons via Amazon Prime, and it was such a good show that I couldn't wait until next year for the last season to stream; I ended up buying the digital rights to season 6.

The showrunners and producers decided before the season that it would be the last one, which meant they were able to plan the end without having it forced on them, and without having to stretch to pad the episode count (ahem, "Lost"). The series finale was quite good, with a touch of melancholy and fitting ends for the major characters. I don't think it was quite as good as the finale for "The Shield," but that may be the best ever series finale.

Anyway, I found myself missing Raylan Givens, so when I saw that the Elmore Leonard novel "Raylan" was available at the library, I checked it out. Leonard was the author who created Givens as a secondary character in two novels, "Pronto" and "Riding the Rap," and then made him the star of the short story "Fire in the Hole," which became the pilot episode of the TV series.

Leonard had a string of gritty crime novels, many set in his hometown of Detroit, which was lean, dialogue-driven novels in which tough guys on both sides careened into one another with violent results. Before "Justified," he was probably best known for writing "Get Shorty" (on which the movie was based), but a whole bunch of his works have been filmed, including "Out of Sight" and "Jackie Brown," and the short-lived TV shows "Maximum Bob" and "Karen Sisco" (which starred Carla Gugino in the role that Jennifer Lopez played in "Out of Sight"; Gugino later appeared in "Justified" as a high ranking U.S. Marshal named Karen ------, last named never mentioned but clearly different from the name that Givens knew her by).

I knew from reviews that "Raylan" had not been well-received, but I was missing Givens so I went ahead and read it.

Boy, was I disappointed. It's basically three storylines told sequentially that draw from storylines in the TV series, though with some characters reworked. It's flat, fairly lifeless, and missing the crackling smart dialogue from the show. There is seriously only about one line in the entire book that jumps off the page as the kind of smart alecky thing Raylan Givens would say in his laidback drawl.

Most of the time I prefer books to the screen versions, but this was one of the rare exceptions.

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