Friday 4 February 2011

Justified: Elmore Leonard's Raylan Givens Novels and Stories; Pronto, Riding the Rap and Fire in the Hole (Featuring a Signed First Edition)

The relationship between novels and their TV or movie adaptations is a subject I've returned to more than once, notably in this missive on Jeff Lindsay's Dexter books and how they compare to the Dexter television show. I was mostly assessing the relative merits of the novels and the show in that post, but I did briefly touch on the matter of the faithfulness of adaptations, if only by way of illustrating how certain adaptations – the movie of Watchmen, say – can be so slavishly faithful to the surface of a text that they overlook the underlying complexities and even the heart of a work. Truly faithful adaptations – those which effectively translate the feel and even the soul (for want of a better word) of a book as well as its plot and characters – are, I think, few and far between, in large part because distilling a 300-page novel down to a one-and-a-half hour film (or even a 400-page graphic novel down to a three-hour film in the case of Watchmen) is nigh on impossible.

But in the last ten years American television has undergone a renaissance, so much so that it is now possible to do justice to a book over multiple episodes of a show. The Sopranos is endlessly cited as being pioneering in the shift to more complex storytelling on television, but alongside it stand Six Feet Under, Mad Men and particularly The Wire, which really did adopt a novelistic approach, each season acting as one long story. (You could make a case for Babylon 5 and the latter seasons of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine being the 1990s forebears of the extended story-arc approach, but good though those shows were, I think you'd struggle to claim they had the depth of The Wire.) TV has become the natural medium for adventurous producers and writers wishing to properly explore storytelling possibilities – and indeed properly adapt a source text (witness the first season of Dexter, for example). Which brings me, in a rather long-winded way, to Justified.

Justified, if you're not familiar with it, is an FX show about a cowboy hat-wearing Deputy US Marshal named Raylan Givens, who, following a shootout at a swanky Miami hotel pool, is excommunicated back to small-town Kentucky, where he grew up. Created by Graham Yost, it stars Timothy Olyphant as Raylan – a character not a million miles from another lawman Olyphant has played, Sheriff Seth Bullock, as essayed in the brilliant Deadwood. Justified is based on an Elmore Leonard short story called Fire in the Hole... at least, that's what the opening credits would have you believe. In fact the 2010 debut season draws from all of the stories Leonard wrote about Givens, which comprise two novels – Pronto and Riding the Rap – and the aforementioned short. Yost and the rest of the production team's mantra in making the show was, "What would Elmore do?" but in reality I doubt they had to repeat that too much: countless sequences and stretches of dialogue are lifted straight from Leonard's stories; his name runs through Justified as if through a stick of rock. It is, without a doubt, one of the most faithful adaptations – in story, character, and tone – of Leonard's or any other writer's work we've yet seen.

I'll be exploring how and why it's so faithful in a series of posts next week on each book (bet you can't wait after that meandering preamble), ahead of the start of Justified's second season on Wednesday in the States. But for now, let's have a look at the UK first editions:

Left to right we have the UK hardback first editions and first printings of Pronto (1993), Riding the Rap (1995) and When the Women Come Out to Dance (2002), all published by Viking/Penguin; that last one is where Fire in the Hole resides. The cover illustrations on the first two are by Mark Taylor and the photograph on When the Women is by Russell Duncan. Now, if you've been paying attention (a big ask, I know, but anyway), you might recall my having blogged about a first edition of Pronto before, which I bought up in London. The copy you can see here isn't that copy, however. This one has something special about it, something that made it irresistible to me:

It's signed by Elmore Leonard. Of course, signed editions of Leonard's books aren't exactly thin on the ground – there are over fifty signed copies of Pronto on AbeBooks alone. But almost all of those are for sale from US dealers, and almost all of the books are US first editions. There's only one other signed UK first edition I've seen online, and that's going for fifty quid, which is way more than I paid for my copy. So in this instance, I reckon buying a second copy of the same (albeit signed) book was... well... justified.

See you next week.


  1. Louis, don't you get sick of the inferior paper stock and binding that almost always goes into the production of UK books? That's why they go yellow after two years. The US usually use acid-free paper. I try to stick with the US editions.

  2. See-

  3. You're quite correct: British editions of novels do tend to use crappy paper stock, and tanning is common. So in that sense, collecting UK first editions is indefensible.


    There are a number of reasons why I prefer UK editions. For one - and it's a sweeping generalization but still, I think, largely true - I tend to prefer the covers or dustjackets of British editions, particularly from the '60s and '70s. There were some brilliant cover designers working in publishing in that era, and they created some splendid jackets.

    For another, because Britain is a smaller place than America, UK print-runs are necessarily smaller than in the States, and consequently British first editions tend to be a lot scarcer than US ones. Which, for an inveterate collector like me, is bound to be appealing.

    But it's also the fact that Britain is my home, and always has been, so I just much prefer to have British first editions. British hardbacks and paperbacks are what I grew up with, borrowing them out of the library and eventually buying them. It's kind of ingrained now.

    Good posts, by the way.