Sunday, April 05, 2009


A Dell/Bantam paperback
by Elmore Leonard
Yes, of course it's old and probably not available except as used. Can't help it. This demonstrates the hazards of collecting books. I keep 'em around and sometimes re-read. What a waste of energy, but this is another too-good-not-to-remind you.

Some call it crime thriller, others mystery. I’d call RIDING THE RAP a crime caper novel. Who cares? This is wonderful tragic-comedy. The writing is excellent and the plot works all the time, all the way through the book.

Then we have the characters. With a single exception, Leonard has made us like and even care about all the characters, good and evil. From the psychic Reverend Dawn to the pitiful spoiled Chip Ganz, to Joyce the ex-dancer, Leonard looks at each as a fully-developed individual. Even the Puerto Rican gardener-cum-mob enforcer Bobby changes shape as we move around him.

It’s a bad idea, this terroristic kidnapping, conceived by a Miami Gold Coast druggie and carried out by two mismatched low-lifes. Whom do they snatch, but a retired bookie, figuring he’s got millions stashed somewhere. It turns out the money’s there, but terrorism in Lebanon doesn’t travel well to south Florida.

Enter Raylan Givens, gun-toting Stetson-wearing U.S. Marshall. Straight-arrow Raylan (well almost straight-arrow) polite to a fault, goes looking for the snatched bookie, Harry Arno. It’s not an assignment, you understand. He starts investigating because his lady friend, an ex-topless dancer, asks him to look. So, in between regular assignments in court and transporting convicted felons here and there, Raylan looks for Harry.

As his non-case continues, Raylan has to deal with an astonishing array of characters, nearly all of whom have a hand out one way or the other. The steely-eyed, upstanding marshal wades through these cross-currents until he resolves the case...well almost. The ending is another one of Leonard’s masterful sleights-of-hand. And you love it. And you’ll read the next one. And I think you’ll have a good laugh more than once while you’re RIDING THE RAP.

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