To recap: on Friday I posted an introductory ramble about the show and the stories, and on Monday I posted some thoughts on the first of Leonard's Raylan Givens novels, 1993's Pronto, and how it compares to the season one episode it forms the basis of, Long in the Tooth, as well as some more general comments on how Justified adopts Leonard's distinctive tone. Then yesterday I looked at the second Givens novel, 1995's Riding the Rap, which inspired the episode Fixer, and wittered on about the characters in Leonard's stories – in particular Deputy US Marshal Raylan Givens – and how they translate to the small screen. The point of all this frantic blogging being to demonstrate how Justified is the most faithful screen adaptation of Elmore Leonard's work yet seen – a point that's probably somewhat belaboured by this, er, point, but what the hell. We've come this far, you and I. Might as well see it through to the finish.
Today we turn to the last of Leonard's Givens stories, the novella Fire in the Hole, which was published as part of the 2002 collection When the Women Come Out to Dance. And in terms of plot – which, as I mentioned previously it would be, is the focus of this post – it's the clearest example yet of how faithful Justified is to Leonard's stories. If you've seen the first season pilot, then you'll experience an overwhelming sense of deju vu in reading Fire in the Hole, because Justified's creators basically took the novella and levered it practically unchanged into their debut episode. There's the addition of the opening shootout with Tommy Bucks in Miami, of course – which, you'll recall, originally took place at the end of Pronto – but other than that, the beats are the same.
Fire in the Hole (the novella) begins with unhinged religious Nazi (literally) Boyd Crowder on his mission to blow shit up, in the company of the unfortunate Jared (who meets precisely the same fate he does in the TV show). Cue the explosive dispatch of one questionable church at the hands of Boyd and his grenade launcher – with his accompanying eponymous Nam-inspired holler – and enter Marshal Givens, on secondment at the request of the man in charge of the East Kentucky Special Ops Group, Art Mullen. From there, events progress much as they do in the pilot episode, as Raylan gets reacquainted with Ava, wife of Boyd's brother, Bowman, who she's coincidentally just shot and killed, and confronts Boyd, with whom he mined coal as a young man.
In terms of plot (and a fair bit of the dialogue, too), the transliteration from page to screen is near total. But the thing is, if all Justified's writers had to go on was the novella Fire in the Hole, I doubt we'd be seeing the remarkably faithful TV series we have. Fire in the Hole is a good (short) story, but it's not the whole story. Both Pronto and Riding the Rap have a lot more meat on their bones, particularly in the way they flesh out the character of Raylan. I wrote at length (and how) yesterday about Raylan's character, so I won't go over all of that again now (read the post, if you dare), except to say that the work Leonard put in on Raylan and other characters is what made the pilot of Justified and everything that follows possible. (The mantra for the show's producers was, "What would Elmore do?") So if you're a fan of Justified, and you're considering reading some of Elmore Leonard's source material – something I'd obviously heartily recommend – I wouldn't start with Fire in the Hole. The novella is so slight, you won't get a true sense of Raylan just from that. Best to make your way through Pronto and Riding the Rap first.
That said, Fire in the Hole is definitely worth reading once you've got the two novels under your belt, if only to marvel – as I did – at the way so much of what Leonard wrote ended up on the screen. Take Ava (played by Joelle Carter in Justified). She's slightly older in the novella, but other than that it's the same character in the short story as in the show; the sparks between her and Raylan are as tangible as they are on screen ("I had a crush on you," Ava tells him, "from the time I was twelve years old"). As for Boyd and Raylan, the weird mixture of animosity and kinship is present and correct in the novella. Raylan delivers his warning to Boyd – "You make me pull, I'll put you down" – and Boyd for his part offers Raylan the same deal Raylan offered Tommy Bucks: "Get out of Harlan County by tomorrow noon or I'll come looking for you. That sound fair?" And we all know where that leads. (The novella ends with Raylan's line, "Boyd and I dug coal together.")
Leonard is apparently writing further Raylan stories*, but even if they never see light of day, at least we've got the new season of Justified to enjoy – and all being well, many more to come. As I've (hopefully) made plain over the course of these posts, it's as close to the true Elmore Leonard experience as you're ever likely to get – without reading the books, that is. And if you're thinking of doing that, here are the stories in the order you'd need to read them, along with the Justified episodes they inspired. How's that for service?
Pronto (Delacourte/Viking/Penguin, 1993)
Justified season one, episode four, Long in the Tooth/season one, episode one, Fire in the Hole (Tommy Bucks shootout)
Riding the Rap (Delacourte/Viking/Penguin, 1995)
Justified season one, episode two, Riverbrook (Dale Crowe Junior/Dewey Crowe prison transport)/season one, episode three, Fixer
Fire in the Hole in When the Women Come Out to Dance (William Morrow/Viking/Penguin, 2002)
Justified season one, episode one, Fire in the Hole
* Elmore Leonard did indeed pen further Raylan Givens stories – a whole book's worth, titled, rather prosaically, Raylan – and you can read my review of that book and how it relates to Justified seasons two and three right here.