RIDING THE RAP by ELMORE LEONARD (1995, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 326pp) ***
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
Key Largo (1948; USA; B&W; 100m) **** d. John Huston; w. Richard Brooks, John Huston; ph. Karl Freund; m. Max Steiner. Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Edward G. Robinson, Lauren Bacall, Lionel Barrymore, Claire Trevor, Thomas Gomez, Harry Lewis, John Rodney, Marc Lawrence, Dan Seymour, Monte Blue, William Haade. A man visits his old friend’s hotel and finds a gangster running things. As a hurricane approaches, the two end up confronting each other. Tense thriller extracts maximum impact from its strong cast who are well directed by Huston. Bogart and Robinson’s antagonistic interplay is electric, whilst Trevor also excels as Robinson’s alcoholic mistress. Bacall and Barrymore offer good support. Rousing Steiner score and effective photography from Freund give added atmosphere to the production, which at times betrays its static stage roots until its exciting climax on the fog bound ocean. Won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress (Trevor). Based on the play by Maxwell Anderson. [PG]
Dark Passage (1947; USA; B&W; 106m) ***½ d. Delmer Daves; w. Delmer Daves; ph. Sid Hickox; m. Franz Waxman. Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Bruce Bennett, Agnes Moorehead, Tom D’Andrea, Clifton Young, Douglas Kennedy, Rory Mallinson, Houseley Stevenson. A man convicted of murdering his wife escapes from prison and works with a woman to try and prove his innocence. An overly contrived, if admittedly engrossing and entertaining, plot relying on too much coincidence is all but overcome by the strong cast and technical accomplishments. Using the camera as the protagonist’s point-of-view for over half its running time, the gimmick seems a little forced. Bogart doesn’t physically appear until over an hour into the story, but Bacall holds the screen well and their star chemistry is still apparent. Hickox’s photography using the San Francisco locations and dark streets is moodily effective. Daves directs his own screenplay adaptation with a sure hand and uses hand-held cameras to good effect. Moorehead stands out in the supporting cast as a schemer. Based on the novel by David Goodis. [PG]
THE FALLEN by ACE ATKINS (2017, Corsair, 358pp) ****
Blurb: Mississippi sheriff Quinn Colson had to admit he admired the bank robbers. A new bank was hit almost every week, and the robbers rushed in and out with such skill and precision it reminded him of raids he’d led back in Afghanistan and Iraq when he was an army ranger. In fact, it reminded him so much of the techniques in the Ranger Handbook that he couldn’t help wondering if the outlaws were former Rangers themselves. And that was definitely going to be a problem. If he stood any chance of catching them, he was going to need the help of old allies, new enemies, and a lot of luck. The enemies he had plenty of. It was the allies and the luck that were going to be in woefully short supply.
The seventh book in Ace Atkins’ Quinn Colson series is a strong character driven entry. Its interesting to note that many TV series these days take on season long stories with arcs across their seasons. This was to give the TV series the feel of a novel and explore in depth character as well as plot and sub-plot. Well, we seem to have come full circle as Atkins’ series deftly transfers the concept of cross-season story arcs into his novel series, so with this book we are left on something of a cliffhanger, which leads us to look forward to the next instalment.
Atkins has grown in confidence with the series and this book, whilst it may be light on central plot, is driven by the many sub-plots that lie beneath. This allows him to invest time into his characters, with greater exploration of Colson’s reformed sister Caddy and the new owner of the lap-dancing bar, Fannie Hathcock, in particular. There is also a new love interest for Quinn in the form of Maggie Wilcox, who happens to have a direct link into the central plot as well. The book is also a turning point in the career of Quinn’s deputy, Liilie Virgil.
Atkins writes with great assurance and the dialogue is sparky and humorous; reminiscent of one of his heroes – Elmore Leonard. This then, is another excellent entry in a series that just gets better and better.
The Quinn Colson series:
The Ranger (2011) ***
The Lost Ones (2012) ***
The Broken Place (2013) ***
The Forsaken (2014) ***½
The Redeemers (2015) ****
The Innocents (2016) ***½
The Fallen (2017) ****
The Sinners (2018)
Killer Joe (2011; USA; Colour; 102m) ***½ d. William Friedkin; w. Tracy Letts; ph. Caleb Deschanel; m. Tyler Bates. Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Emile Hirsch, Thomas Haden Church, Gina Gershon, Juno Temple, Charley Vance, Gregory Bachaud, Marc Macaulay. When a debt puts a young man’s life in danger, he turns to putting a hit out on his evil mother in order to collect the insurance. Brilliantly acted and darkly comic crime thriller suffers from the occasional misstep – notably in its overly sensational climax. The plot is simple, but cleverly executed and the dialogue is naturalistic. McConaughey is the standout as the detective/hitman with psychotic tendencies beneath a cool and charming facade. Church is also very good as the dim-witted husband of opportunistic Gershon. A tough watch for some, again notably in the final act, this demonstrates Friedkin hasn’t lost his appetite to challenge his audience. Letts adapted her own play. 
Miller’s Crossing (1990; USA; DuArt; 115m) *** d. Joel Coen; w. Joel Coen, Ethan Coen; ph. Barry Sonnenfeld; m. Carter Burwell. Cast: Gabriel Byrne, Marcia Gay Harden, Albert Finney, Jon Polito, J.E. Freeman, John Turturro, Steve Buscemi, Mike Starr, Richard Woods, Al Mancini, Sam Raimi, Frances McDormand. In the 1920s, an Irish gangster and his trusted lieutenant and counsellor find their domination of the town threatened by an ambitious Italian underboss. The Coen Brothers mix traditional gangster movie tropes with very black comedy to produce a lively but ultimately frustrating tale of false loyalties. It starts out well, establishing the key character of Byrne as he plays off Finney against Polito, but the story descends into an increasingly implausible sequence of double-crosses. Good period detail and handsome photography, along with frequently sharp dialogue, are the highlights. Based on the novels “Red Harvest” and “Glass Key” by Dashiell Hammett, which previously were filmed as or inspired ROADHOUSE NIGHTS (1930), YOJIMBO (1961) and FISTFUL OF DOLLARS (1964). 
Enemy of the State (1998; USA; Technicolor; 132m) ***½ d. Tony Scott; w. David Marconi; ph. Daniel Mindel; m. Harry Gregson-Williams, Trevor Rabin. Cast: Will Smith, Gene Hackman, Jon Voight, Lisa Bonet, Regina King, Stuart Wilson, Loren Dean, Jake Busey, Barry Pepper, Jason Robards, Laura Cayouette, Ian Hart, Scott Caan, Jason Lee, Jack Black. A lawyer becomes a target by a corrupt politician and his NSA goons when he accidentally receives key evidence to a serious politically motivated crime. Exciting and frenetically edited, if slightly overlong, action thriller plays on public paranoia with privacy and mistrust of government. Smith is good as cynical everyman caught up in a conspiracy. Hackman is reliable as ever as surveillance expert who comes to his rescue. Extended version runs to 140m. 
Deep, The (1977; USA; Metrocolor; 123m) *** d. Peter Yates; w. Peter Benchley, Tracy Keenan Wynn; ph. Christopher Challis; m. John Barry. Cast: Robert Shaw, Jacqueline Bisset, Nick Nolte, Louis Gossett Jr., Eli Wallach, Dick Anthony Williams, Bob Minor, Robert Tessier, Earl Maynard, Teddy Tucker, Lee McClain, Peter Benchley, Peter Wallach, Colin Shaw. A pair of young vacationers are involved in a dangerous conflict with treasure hunters when they discover a way into a deadly wreck in Bermuda waters. Riding on the coat-tails of JAWS, this underwater adventure lacks the thrills and tight editing of its inspiration. The positives are the sumptuous photography, shot on location in Bermuda, and Barry’s lush score. Shaw is also at his abrasive best, whilst Nolte and Bisset look good for the camera. The version aired in the original ABC network telecast contained 53m of extra footage. Based on the novel by Peter Benchley. [PG]
Big Steal, The (1949; USA; B&W; 71m) *** d. Don Siegel; w. Daniel Mainwaring (as Geoffrey Homes), Gerald Drayson Adams; ph. Harry J. Wild; m. Leigh Harline. Cast: Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer, William Bendix, Patric Knowles, Ramon Novarro, Don Alvarado, John Qualen, Pascual García Peña. An army lieutenant accused of robbery pursues the real thief on a frantic chase through Mexico aided by the thief’s fiancee. Simple plot is essentially an elongated chase punctuated by fight scenes and gun battles. It is tightly directed in his to be trademark efficient manner by Siegel. Mitchum and Greer are the main sell here and they display strong chemistry trading witty dialogue. There is a lightness of touch to proceedings that tells its audience not to take things too seriously. The movie was filmed in Los Angeles and on location in Tehuacán, Puebla, Mexico. Based on the story “The Road to Carmichael’s” by Richard Wormser. [PG]
Enemy Below, The (1957; USA; DeLuxe; 98m) **** d. Dick Powell; w. Wendell Mayes; ph. Harold Rosson; m. Leigh Harline. Cast: Robert Mitchum, Curt Jurgens, Russell Collins, Theodore Bikel, Doug McClure, David Hedison, Kurt Kreuger, Frank Albertson, Biff Elliot, Alan Dexter. During World War II, an American destroyer meets a German U-Boat. Both captains are good ones, and the engagement lasts for a considerable time. Suspenseful battle-of-wits war drama benefits from a tight script and strong direction from Powell. Mitchum and Jurgens excel as the duelling captains, who gain a mutual respect whilst trying to destroy each other in order to survive. Finds time to comment on the inhumanity and science of war. Won an Oscar for Special Effects (Walter Rossi). Based on the novel by D.A. Rayner. [PG]