Inhuman Swill : Thrillers
            

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Update: Since writing this little review, I've learned that Elmore Leonard gave the manuscript of Raylan to the writers of Justified a couple of years ago so they could "hang it up and strip it for parts." This answers some questions of mine but doesn't change my opinion of the book.
Let me say up front that I adore Elmore Leonard. Wait, rever might be a better word. Worship. Idolize. I've been working my way through his immense canon for years. When I bought my iPad, the first thing I did was load it up with his ebooks. His minimalist, dialog-driven prose conveys more than most writers' wordier, clumsy attempts at clarity. He's surely our greatest living writer of crime fiction, and I wish I could write like he does.

That said, Leonard has always had a problem with sequels, which is what his new novel Raylan essentially is. Whether bringing Chili Palmer from Get Shorty back in Be Cool or Jack Foley from Out of Sight back in Road Dogs, he simply seems to have trouble finding a story of equal weight to build around characters who've already had their perfect turn in the spotlight. I appreciate the fact that major characters from some Leonard novels often show up in supporting roles in others, but two major outings always seems to be one too many.

This, I regret to say, is the case with Raylan. U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens was a supporting character in Leonard's 1993 novel Pronto, then a more major character in 1995's Riding the Rap, but he probably enjoyed his finest role in the 2000 novella "Fire in the Hole." In that story Givens, who sees himself as a modern-day gunslinging lawman, is punished for his trigger-happy ways with a reassignment from Florida to Kentucky, where he grew up and mined coal as a teenager. He is drawn reluctantly but inevitably into a showdown with his former friend and colleague Boyd Crowder, who has gone the other way into a life of crime and violence.

"Fire in the Hole" was the direct inspiration for the FX series Justified, which is in its third season and is currently one of my favorite shows on television. Unfortunately Justified seems to have been the direct inspiration for Raylan, which is less a novel than three slightly overlapping Raylan Givens novellas smooshed together into one book. The first plotline, about a gang who steal kidneys and then try to sell them back to the victims, has appeared in slightly different form on Justified already this season. The second, about a mining company's attempts to intimidate land owners into selling, was the story underlying most of Justified's second season. The third features hookers coerced into committing dangerous robberies in exchange for oxycontin, a plotline that appeared in last week's Justified, and I think it's reasonable to assume that the high-stakes poker subplot will show up in a future episode.

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Apocryphal MacLean

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In junior high school, the Alistair MacLean virus swept through a lot of the boys and some of the girls in my class. I caught it from HMS Ulysses, which my father thrust into my hands at some point and told me I had to read. (He always maintained that war novels and spy novels were more instructive about the real world than science fiction novels.) In truth, though, I had probably caught a mutant strain of the virus in very early childhood, from the movie version of Ice Station Zebra. (My father on occasion would bring a film projector home from the school where he taught, along with library prints of flicks like that or Ivanhoe. I movies, I guess.)

Anyway, those of us afflicted scoured the school and public library shelves for every Alistair MacLean novel we could lay our hands on. Our guide, our index, our grimoire in this pursuit was that most magical of lists, the Also by This Author list in the fronts of the battered paperbacks we passed around. Many of those books were easily found, others discoverable with some detective work, two or three as vanishingly rare as Willy Wonka's Golden Tickets. We thought of them—though in terms more unformed than this phrase—as the MacLean Apocrypha.

I know now that the Apocrypha were apocryphal because they'd been published under different titles in the U.K. (The Secret Ways), been published under pseudonyms in the U.K. (The Satan Bug), or both. But I didn't know this, or care, when I finally managed to lay my hands on the Holy Grail of the Apocrypha—The Black Shrike.

I can only imagine with what anticipation I tore into that lurid tome with the ominous tropical landscape on the cover, an unreal book that seemed to have dropped from an alternate dimension. And as much as I hated to admit it to myself, I discovered an unfortunate fact about apocryphal writings.

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The Accidental Terrorist 30th Anniversary Sale

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missionary
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William Shunn

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