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Elmore Leonard on 'Raylan' and 'Justified'

Elmore Leonard discusses the moral ambiguity of his protagonist, the struggle to make good guys as interesting as villains, and his thoughts on 'Justified,' the TV series based on his work.

By Erik Spanberg / January 18, 2012

Elmore Leonard says actor Timothy Olyphant, who plays lead character Raylan Givens in the TV series 'Justified' based on Leonard's books, 'is probably the best one to do one of my characters.'

By Dermot Cleary

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All right, you’re looking at Harlan County, Ky., and there goes Boyd Crowder, a shady character if ever there was one.

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Boyd has a knack for finding the kind of work that requires a rap sheet instead of a résumé.

Now he’s working for a company notorious for strip-mining mountaintops in the Appalachians, assigned to a dubious department known as Disagreements. His boss, the cruel and calculating Carol Conlan, swoops in and decides to make Boyd her personal chauffeur during her visit. Just one problem: Carol shoots a local resident who happens to be a victim of the mine company’s pollution, then pins the act on Boyd, claiming he had saved her from an unprovoked attack.

All of which explains why Boyd and Carol are getting testy, arguing as Boyd drives her through Kentucky. Carol threatens to fire Boyd and he recalls an earlier part of their conversation.

            “You know you ended a sentence with a preposition? You said, ‘She’s here in a nursing home we’re payin for.’ ”

            “Caught being ungrammatical.” Carol staring at his serious face.

            “How should I have said it?”

            “She’s here in a nursing home,” Boyd said, “for which we’re payin the costs.”

Welcome to the wonderful world of Elmore Leonard. The scene above comes from his latest book, “Raylan” (Morrow, $26.99, 272 pages). Raylan, of course, is Raylan Givens, a sharpshooting modern-day deputy US marshal with a penchant for intermittent bouts of moral ambiguity and a consistent case of walk-off zingers.

A prime example: Raylan, soon after a suspect in the Kentucky mountains hands him a jar of moonshine, later tells his boss what became of it.

“It was good. The peach didn’t mess it up any. I had a couple of pulls and gave it to an old coot on the street. It brought tears to his eyes.”

As for old coots, Leonard, 86, is anything but. He keeps turning out smooth, hip novels that may be found in the mystery section but are, in fact, slices of street-wise patois and pop-culture observation, with healthy splashes of crime and violence. Good guys and bad guys alike are quirky, with plenty of ambivalence on both sides. All are prone to impromptu pronouncements on subjects various and sundry, such as Raylan’s off-hand observation in the new novel that Ole Miss “has the best-looking girls of any college in the country. Even Vanderbilt. Ole Miss, the girl’s an eight-plus, she doesn’t have to pass her SATs.”

In “Raylan,” Leonard riffs on everything from a bungled scheme to trade in stolen kidneys to backwoods poverty rife with drug dealers and marijuana crops.

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