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.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot has been cast to play Wonder Woman
Top Gear presenter James May appears to be struggling with his new-found free time
Arts and Entertainment
Kendrick Lamar at the Made in America Festival in Los Angeles last summer
Arts and Entertainment
'Marley & Me' with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Hamm (right) and John Slattery in the final series of Mad Men
Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor