This is such a strange and awkward cultural artifact that I hardly know what to do with it.
The book is called Raylan, set in the typeface from Justified the TV show, and there’s our man Timothy Olyphant on the cover. We are led to think this is a novel that takes place in the universe of Justified the TV show. Or at least I was? But it’s not, and it doesn’t. There are two different universes, and it’s hard to see how one fits with the other.
There are characters here who are familiar (Boyd and Ava, Art and Wynona) and semi-familiar (Dickie and Coover...Crowe?) but it’s not them. This is not the Boyd Crowder we know so well from the show--this Boyd is an idiot man child who wears his guilt on his sleeve and doesn’t see the angles coming from farther off than the rest of us. And this is not Raylan Givens--he’s not as clever, not as compassionate, and worst of all he drinks martinis?
The book contains loose variations on several key scenes from S2 of the show, but the book came out after S3. I immediately found myself at sea, reading this. What is it meant to be? What is canon, when the book seems to be working at cross-purposes with the TV show? Jamie, bless her, informed me that these were scenes Elmore originally wrote for Graham before S2 began, as grist for his mill. So OK, there’s our context, good.
But so setting aside that the book doesn’t quite fit with the show, since the writers took this and turned it into something different, how does this book fare on its own merits?
This really is just a group of scenes, loosely linked together by some of the most random circumstances and coincidences I’ve ever seen. People come together and float apart, with little sense or reason or drive behind any of it. It feels like what it is, a sketch, a first draft. Some interesting ideas waiting for a red pencil and a plan.
Jackie Nevada hitches a ride and the rich guy from the first story happens to be the first car along? And he’s suddently throwing millions of dollars at her? And then Raylan randomly shows up at the guy’s house? And then he and Boyd watch her play poker? And why does Carole want Wynona at the town meeting? And a gun thug is suddenly cross-dressing because why?
The main benefit of this book is that it made me appreciate the show writers even more. It is a considerable achievement that Graham & his staff were able to pull bits and pieces out of this to create what they did.
When I think about other books that live alongside their TV counterparts I always think of the Richard Castle books as the right way to do it. They are good yarns, they sort of take place in the same universe as the show and use pieces of the show in their plots, but not in a way that diminshes or takes away from either side. And the Justified universe (as definied by the TV show) is so wide open and full of possibilities. It’s hard not to think of what this book could have been. Of course you can’t review the book you wanted, you have to review the book you read. And that’s what’s so infuriating. How little sense any of this book makes. If I didn’t care so strongly about the characters from the show I maybe wouldn’t care as much? But even if the show didn’t exist, it wouldn’t make this book stronger.
I was going to give this 2 stars, even despite the problematic race stuff (SORRY I am not comfortable with an old white dude writing about another old white dude who keeps a black woman as his personal maid slash prostitute (and she seems to like it? NOPE.), but then I came to the most terrifyingly random and awkward and Bechdel Test-failing conversation about sex two women in a book have ever had and just, nope, sorry, no. Nope. All the nopes.