Quick on the draw

Hugo Barnacle on the latest thriller from Elmore Leonard; Riding the Rap by Elmore Leonard Viking, pounds 15

Bringing in his man, US Marshal Raylan Givens gets bushwhacked by another couple of desperadoes, turns the tables, brings these two in as well. On the way to jail he tells them about a rich, miserable drunk he knows, name of Harry. "He isn't bothering me any, he's his own problem. Same as you fellas. I don't take what you did personally. You understand? Want to lean on you. Or wish you any more state time 'n you deserve. What you'll have to do now is ride the rap, as they say. It's all anybody has to do."

You can almost see the cactuses against the sunset and hear the music swell. Except this isn't the end, it's the beginning. They aren't in the desert out west, they're in Palm Beach, Florida. And they aren't on horses, they're aboard a blue two-year-old Cadillac which the Marshals Service has confiscated after some federal bust or other.

However, Marshal Givens does wear, at all times and in all places, a cowboy hat. Elmore Leonard is playing on his own early reputation as a writer of westerns, made before he switched to urban thrillers, the modern equivalent.

Despite packing a Beretta automatic instead of a Colt .45, Raylan is a quick-draw artist, and is keeping a low profile on the Fugitive Apprehension team because the US Attorney didn't like the way he gunned down a mafia hood (bad guy) in a restaurant (saloon). "I gave him 24 hours to get out of Dade County," protested Raylan. "Tommy Bucks was sitting at that table when his time ran out. Armed ... What happened then, Tommy Bucks drew on me and I shot him."

Raylan's girlfriend Joyce, who was in the restaurant at the time, didn't like it either. (Men are men and women are women.) She has since been spending more time with her ex, the hopeless Harry.

Harry is, or at least was, a bookie, and to bulk up his retirement bundle he hires a Puerto Rican hitman called Bobby Deogracias to collect some of the worst debts, starting with the $16,500 owed by one Chip Canz, another hopeless case still living in his senile mother's mansion. Being Hispanic, and this being an Elmore Leonard novel, Bobby is a complete sociopath, so Ganz hires him to help kidnap Harry instead and hold him incommunicado, Lebanon-style, until he tells them how to get hold of his offshore millions.

Along with Canz's other goon, known as Louis the Bahamian, they lift Harry by getting a pretty young fortune-teller to offer him hypnosis at her place. They simply carry him out while he's under, as it were.

As always with Leonard there are these wishful, even fantastical elements that don't fit in with the wittily observed lowlife environment. Hypnosis is not an altered state of consciousness, it's only assisted auto-suggestion. The subject doesn't go under, he merely relaxes, and the idea that he wouldn't notice a couple of large brown men kidnapping him is a bit silly.

At Joyce's bidding, Raylan Givens reluctantly gets on the trail. His first lead is Dawn, the pretty fortune-teller, who was seen talking to Harry. It's unclear whether she really has psychic powers or not. We discover she makes a habit of abruptly telling men, "You're trying to imagine what I look like without my clothes on," which doesn't take much supernatural insight, and at the end Raylan tells her, "I think you see things the same way I do except you believe you have a gift".

Leonard, however, does make her come out with all kinds of information she couldn't have gathered by normal means. At a second look the text ought to show where she gets her clues or cues, but there aren't any. Which makes her an implausibly good guesser.

Elmore Leonard's climactic shootouts, too, tend to be unconvincing. The good guy can always draw in less time than it takes the bad guy, who already has him covered, to just pull the trigger. Leonard mocks western conventions - Bobby keeps practising absurdly for a high-noon showdown with the marshal - but he also obeys them.

His greatest strengths are his economical style, distinctly sharp characterisations, properly researched backgrounds and a fine knack of holding the interest. His books are like the kind of B-movies that often turned out better than the main features.

Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Pixie Lott will take part in Strictly Come Dancing 2014, the BBC has confirmed

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Prince and 3RDEYEGIRL are releasing Plectrum Electrum next month

music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Carell in the poster for new film 'Foxcatcher'
filmExclusive: First look at comic actor in first major serious role
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Kingston Road in Stockton is being filmed for the second series of Benefits Street
arts + entsFilming for Channel 4 has begun despite local complaints
Arts and Entertainment
Led Zeppelin

music
Arts and Entertainment
Radio presenter Scott Mills will be hitting the Strictly Come Dancing ballroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce performs in front of a Feminist sign at the MTV VMAs 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has taken home the prize for Video of the Year at the MTV Video Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Paige and Scott Lowell in Queer as Folk (Season 5)
tvA batch of shows that 'wouldn't get past a US network' could give tofu sales an unexpected lift
Arts and Entertainment
books... but seller will be hoping for more
Arts and Entertainment
John Kearns winner of the Foster's Edinburgh Comedy Award with last years winners: Bridget Christie and Frank Skinner
comedyJohn Kearns becomes the first Free Fringe act to win the top prize
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Sue Vice
booksAcademic says we should not disregard books because they unexpectedly change genre
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Muscato performs as Michael Crawford in Stars in Their Eyes

TV
Arts and Entertainment
‘Game of Thrones’

TV
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
    Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

    What is the appeal of Twitch?

    Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
    Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

    How bosses are making us work harder

    As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
    Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

    Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

    As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
    Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

    A tale of two writers

    Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
    Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

    Should pupils get a lie in?

    Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
    Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

    Prepare for Jewish jokes...

    ... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
    SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

    A dream come true for SJ Watson

    Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
    10 best cycling bags for commuters

    10 best cycling bags for commuters

    Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
    Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

    Paul Scholes column

    Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
    Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

    Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

    A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
    Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

    The science of herding is cracked

    Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
    Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

    This tyrant doesn’t rule

    It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?