Book Review – FIRE IN THE HOLE AND OTHER STORIES (2004) by Elmore Leonard

FIRE IN THE HOLE AND OTHER STORIES by ELMORE LEONARD (2004, William Morrow, 228pp) ***½

Blurb: Originally published as When the Women Came Out to Dance, Elmore Leonard’s extraordinary story collection, Fire in the Hole reconfirms his standing as the “King Daddy of crime writers” (Seattle Times)–a true Grand Master in the legendary company of John D. MacDonald, Dashiell Hammett, and James M. Cain. These nine riveting tales of crime and (sometimes) punishment–including the title story starring U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens, which was the basis for the smash hit TV series Justified–feature all the elements that have made the great Elmore Leonard great: superb writing, unforgettable characters, breathtaking twists, and the sharpest, coolest dialogue in the mystery-thriller genre.

An interesting collection of some of Elmore Leonard’s short stories and two novellas. The key story of interest is “Fire in the Hole”, which became the basis for the TV series Justified. This is one of two novellas included, the other being Tenkiller, which also plays like a modern day western. Sparks (1999, 17pp) ***½  is the story of an insurance investigator looking into a house fire of a property owned by a wealthy widow. It has echoes of Double Indemnity and gets the collection off to a solid start. Hanging Out at the Buena Vista (1999, 5pp) **½ is a short throwaway vignette set in a nursing home where two elderly people are coming to terms with their mortality. Chickasaw Charlie Hoke (2001, 17pp) *** is the story of an out-of-work ex-ball player trying to trade off his name. The story is insubstantial but features strong characters. When the Women Come Out to Dance (2003, 17pp) **** is one of the strongest stories in the collection and concerns a red-headed ex-stripper who has married into money and become Mrs Mahmood. She hires a maid she suspects had killed her own husband with the intention she does the same for her. This story too has some marvellous noir-ish touches and a satisfying twist climax. Fire in the Hole (2002, 56pp) ****½ is the main draw here. It features US Deputy Marshal Raylan Givens, star of Leonard’s novels Pronto and Riding the Rap, as he returns to his home town in Kentucky and comes across Boyd Crowder, who he “dug coal with” before he became a lawman. Crowder is now a bigoted criminal looking to wage war against black Americans and take control of the local drug trade. Most of the characters used in the TV series are introduced here and this is the best of Leonard’s stories to feature Givens. Karen Makes Out (1996, 22pp) *** features another of Leonard’s popular creations, US Marshal Karen Sisco. This story demonstrates her fallibility when she unknowingly becomes romantically involved with a bank robber. The story plays out in pretty predictable fashion, but Leonard is obviously at home with his characters here. Hurrah for Capt. Early (1994, 17pp) ***½ is a Western story of a returning black soldier from the Cuban war who faces bigotry from cowboys in a town welcoming home a war hero. The story plays out well with a strong, dignified, central character in Bo Catlett. The Tonto Woman (1982, 17pp) *** is also set in the west, where a rancher has his Indian wife living in exile in a log cabin, where she is befriended by a charming Mexican cattle rustler. This story plays out more as a morality tale and has familiar tropes of the genre. The final story Tenkiller (2003, 60pp) ***½ features ex-Rodeo rider now Hollywood stunt man, Ben Webster returning to his homestead to find three criminals have rented the property on which they are stripping hijacked trucks. There is the re-kindling of a romance and a satisfying showdown thrown into the mix. It is a formula that Ace Atkins would explore in his Leonard-inspired Quinn Colson series. This ends a satisfying mix of stories that demonstrate Leonard’s strength with handling plot, characters and dialogue in his distinctive economical style.

Son of Shaft June 2019 release date to tie in with Father’s Day

Samuel L Jackson was briefly interviewed at the premiere of The Incredibles 2 in London on 8 July and was asked about the new Shaft movie. He stated the movie’s 2019 June release date was to tie in with Father’s Day, given the nature of the relationship between his character and the of Jessie T Usher in the movie. HIs hinting toward a family orientated theme seems at odds with the previous films in the series, but may just be reflective of the nature of the three generations of Shaft in the movie, with Richard Roundtree also present to reprise his original role.

Book Review – RIDING THE RAP (1995) by Elmore Leonard

RIDING THE RAP by ELMORE LEONARD (1995, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 326pp) ***

Riding the Rap by [Leonard, Elmore]Blurb: Palm Beach playboy Chip Ganz needs money – fast. He has spiralling debts, and his mother’s gravy-train has just derailed. So he has a plan: he’s going to find somebody rich, and take them hostage. With the help of an ex-con, a psycho gardener and the beautiful psychic Reverend Dawn, he chooses bookmaker Harry Arno as the lucky victim. The trouble is, Harry can scam with the best of them. And that’s not the only problem. US Marshal Raylan Givens is sleeping with Harry’s ex girlfriend, Joyce, and she wants Harry found. And when everyone’s got a gun, someone is going to get hurt …

Elmore Leonard’s second novel to feature Deputy US Marshal Raylan Givens lacks the scope of the first, 1993’s Pronto. It is, however, still an entertaining read filled with Leonard’s trademark characters. The character of bookmaker Harry Arno returns from that book and plays a major part in the story here. The plot again is slight – revolving around a kidnapping scam where the victim is asked to pay for their own release. Raylan is quickly onto the gang and most of the book is spent on detailing how the gang unravel as personal greed and personality clashes take over. Leonard has a fantastic ear for dialogue and his writing style is as efficient as ever. Whilst Riding the Rap won’t sit high in his overall output, it further confirms the potential in his main protagonist, something that Leonard would explore further in his novella, Fire in the Hole and would be taken into the TV series Justified. This novel would be adapted into the third episode of the first season of the series with changes to characters.

Raylan Givens books by Elmore Leonard:
Pronto (1993) ***½
Riding the Rap (1995) ***
Fire in the Hole (novella) (2002) – the basis for Justified.
Raylan (2012) ***½