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To Serve and Shoot - Raylan Givens

Pronto by Elmore Leonard

I approached this novel backwards. Having already watched (and adored) four seasons of Justified, Pronto needed to match my expectations. It didn't. Perhaps this isn't fair, and it certainly isn't the usual case when a novel collides with its screen version. But neither is Justified a straight-up adaptation of Pronto. Rather, it is the first Leonard novel to feature Deputy U.S. Marshall Raylan Givens, Justified's one-of-a-kind lead character. From his cowboy hat to his affinity for ice cream, his unique interpretation of the law to his almost insightful handling of both criminals and guns, Raylan is an extremely recognizable and memorable character, and these traits are on full display in Pronto. If it had been the show that inspired the book, it could be said that Leonard nailed Raylan, only the roles were reversed, and that's where the similarities between the two entities end.

Pronto is actually the story of a Miami bookie, Harry Arno. Set up for skimming by the FBI in the hope that Harry will be forced to roll on the mob and become a witness, Arno does just about everything he's not supposed to. He spills on the FBI to the mob (though he's ignored), gives his U.S. Marshall protective custody the slip, and then flees to Italy on the money he actually was skimming, though, by the time he runs, the price on his head has nothing to do with his sport booking anymore. Instead, it's a mafia pissing match - two men in the organization trying to rise, while a third wants to stay on top. So, the mob follows Harry to Italy, as does the law in the shape of a lanky man in a cowboy hat: Raylan Givens. Harry's not worried, though; he's lonely, so he hires a former soldier-for-hire turned street corner vendor as his jack-of-all-trades and sends for his 25 years younger girlfriend who's still back in Miami. What ensues is chaos.

Chaos is fine. I like chaos. Gunfights and mafia machinations are fun but not when they are the direct result of an inept, egotistical, oftentimes drunk fool. Harry Arno is no hero, antihero, or lead character, yet it's his voice most often lent to the book and his actions which put the entire plot in motion. Very Arlo-esque (Raylan's father on Justified), Harry should have been a supporting character, nothing more. He's utterly unsympathetic, so he has absolutely no rooting value. Because the world would be a better (more interesting) place without him, the novel has no relevance. You don't care if the mob whacks him, so you don't care if Raylan saves him. This makes for a boring read until moments when other, more compelling characters are spotlighted in some kind of conflict.

With this said, though, it must be noted what a unique voice and tone Leonard presents in this book. His style is extremely conversational and unstructured, the abbreviated thoughts and incomplete sentences illustrative of the work's mood and setting, yet, at the same time, jarring if one's not used to such lazy and improper speaking habits. While I can see why Leonard was so successful and revered, and while I am quite partial to Justified and Raylan Givens, Pronto is just not my cup of espresso.

Two out of Five Stars

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January 2014


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