With FX’s Justified reaching its final episode later this week, I thought I’d look back at the novel where it all started, Elmore Leonard’s Pronto, featuring the very first appearance by Cowboy Marshall Raylan Givens, as the first novel in a series of books featuring this character. This crime thriller is currently available to buy, with the edition that I read being published by W&N.
Harry Arno runs a South Miami Beach gambling operation. To protect his position, he was forced to cut a deal with the local muscle, Jimmy Capotorto (Jumbo Jimmy Cap), an even fifty-fifty split. For years Harry had been padding his own stake by skimming off the top. Now a couple of local detectives - wise to sticky fingers - try to bag Jimmy by putting the squeeze on Harry. U.S. Marshalls deliver Harry to court to testify at Jimmy's trial. Even though he's a step slower than he used to be, Harry's no fool - he slips out of the country pronto. With Jimmy Cap's men following and the Feds close behind, the three sides end up in Italy, watching their own backs while keeping abreast of Harry's. But it's not until the chase leads back to Miami that the real winners and losers are revealed ...
I’ve been meaning to read Elmore Leonard for a while now, ever since I heard that his short story Fire in the Hole, featuring Raylan’s character, inspired Justified, which is one of my favourite shows. However, when I picked up Pronto, I decided that I’d do my best to read all of the Raylan Givens novels in the order that they were released, and the first thing that becomes abundantly clear about Pronto is that despite being billed as the first in a Raylan Givens series, it is not a Raylan Givens novel, featuring the character only as a secondary role, instead shifting the focus onto 66 year old ex-con Harry Arno, who leads Raylan on a merry goose chase to Italy and back as the action divides itself between Miami and Europe in one of the strongest thriller novels that I’ve had the chance to read.
Much like Justified, the dialogue here is excellent and the main selling point of the book. The interactions between the characters are great to see and Leonard handles them incredibly well. I didn’t mind that Raylan wasn’t the main focus of the book because Harry Arno was so fascinating, and it was almost refreshing to see a book where he wasn’t the main focus. Leonard gives the characters themselves enough depth to make them formidable, and whilst Harry Arno was never a character in Justified, and they didn’t decide to adapt Pronto, probably due to the action splitting up between Italy and America, it was fascinating to see these characters come to life as they out-do each other here. Raylan himself makes an intimidating presence as well, and it’s great to see that his character is virtually exactly the same as the show, and I couldn’t help but read his dialogue in Timothy Olyphant’s voice. As I plan on reading more of Elmore Leonard’s novels in the near future, it’ll be really interesting to see where he takes Raylan, and Harry Arno, going forward, as they’re two very interesting characters indeed.
The fact that the book wasn’t set entirely in Harlan County like Justified was allows for a different change of pace and we even get to see Raylan in Italy, which is something that we never got to see on screen. It was a refreshing breather to see this though, yet even with the action not entirely taking place in the States, we still got the neo-western feel, in part due to Raylan himself being like a 19th Century lawman. The book itself managed to be incredibly quick as well, moving along at a very brisk pace once I got into it and I finished the majority in an afternoon, not being able to put it down. The best thing about thrillers is that they’ll keep you hooked and engaged right the way through even if the quality of the book isn’t actually that great (case in point, most of James Patterson’s novels that he co-writes), but the thing is here, Pronto is actually good anyway. You’ll want to read more, and Elmore Leonard really is on top form.
I didn’t have any major issues with Pronto. It kept me hooked, and I really enjoyed how it played out, with the cat and mouse chase being pulled off incredibly well, and readers who haven’t necessarily seen Justified can read this one just fine and still understand what’s going on, and those who have, like me, whether you’ve seen every episode or are still catching up, can enjoy it just as much. Much like the TV series, which I encourage everybody to watch when they can, Elmore Leonard’s Pronto is awesome. I’ll be returning to read more of Harry Arno and Raylan Givens for sure.