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Tuesday, September 8, 2015
Maybe I’m on a TV kick with my reviews, because for the second week, I’m reviewing a book that is tied in with a show. Elmore Leonard’s “Fire in the Hole” short story is the basis for the FX show, Justified. With Fire in the Hole, Leonard has compiled a collection of nine short stories including the introduction to Raylan Givens.

This review is just a little bit different than my normal reviews considering this is a collection of stories rather than just a simple novel. As a fan of Justified, I was interested in seeing how the author developed the character that Timothy Olyphant has defined so well. What I didn’t realize until after I read this book was that this was actually the fourth book in the Raylan series.

The book starts out with several very short stories before moving on to the title piece. Some of the early stories in the book seem to be more of a character study or outline for a much larger story. Several of the stories end just as I was beginning to connect with the characters.

In “Karen Makes Out,” Karen Sisco from Leonard’s novel, Out of Sight, returns with a new love interest. However, the man is much more than he seems to be and it collides violently with her chosen occupation. Does she choose her career, or the feelings he has stirred deep within her?

Mrs. Mahmood is looking for a way to get out of her unsatisfying marriage. When she turns to her maid to help take care of Mrs. Mahmood, she gets exactly what she’s wanted. By the end of “When the Women Come out to Dance,” she realizes that she’s in for far more than a pound.

One of the more interesting stories in this collection was “Hurrah For Captain Early.” This story explores the life of an African-American soldier from the Spanish-American War as he attempts to attend a ceremony for his friend, the glorious Captain Early. Small town racism rears its ugly head. In the end, though, the brothers in arms see beyond skin color.

The highlight of the book is the title story, “Fire in the Hole.” If any of you have ever seen the pilot episode for Justified, then you know where the fodder for that episode came from. We’re introduced to Boyd Crowder, a backwoods minister bent on white supremacy and blowing things up. Enter Raylan Givens, the Federal Marshall fresh off a shooting in Miami. As old friends, Givens is given the Crowder case with the hopes that he can get through to the other man.

Elmore Leonard writes crime fiction like no other. He grabs the reader’s attention with his own attention to detail. Dialect is geared toward the part of the country he is writing about without going so overboard that a casual reader doesn’t get lost in the intricacies. Vivid details enhance the reader’s experience. Leonard twists the plot just enough to keep you guessing without throwing in a zinger that seemingly comes out of nowhere.

Elmore Leonard is one of my favorite crime fiction writers. He doesn’t overwhelm you with convoluted plots and jarring twists. The characters all have both positive and negative attributes. Even the vile Boyd Crowder has a code he lives by. He loves his family and stands by them in times of need. Raylan tries to avoid his past. In the end, the predominate attributes win out. With Raylan, it’s justice. For Boyd, it’s his demise. This same theme runs throughout all the stories in this collection.

Most readers will fly through these nine stories. They are quick snippets in a larger Leonard universe. For me, some of the shortest stories left me aching for more. They were very promising plots and characters poised to be worthy of their own standalone novels. If there was one negative about this book, that was it. However, like Leonard’s characters, the positive attributes far outweigh the negative. This was a fun, quick read that will send you to the next Elmore Leonard book.

+Craig Bacon’s positive attributes far outweigh his negative. Just ask him. You're justified in commenting on his reviews on Twitter at @hippieboy73.

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