Wednesday 9 February 2011

Justified: Raylan Givens in Fire in the Hole by Elmore Leonard (Novella / Short Story in When the Women Come Out to Dance)

It's the final post in this short series on FX television show Justified – which starts its second season in the US today – and how it stacks up against the two novels and one novella by Elmore Leonard that inspired it. Praise the Lord and pass the biscuits.

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.


  1. How good is the show? I only heard a little bit about it last year (and only because of the Boyd Goggins connection) and didn't know until I read your essays that this show had anything to do with Elmore Leonard.

    I have a dozen or so Elmore Leonard novels but am embarrassed to say I haven't read any of them. I have listened to the audio versions of several, mainly the ones read by Joe Mantegna. Even though they were abridged, they were very entertaining.

    BTW - its fun to read your musings on TV. You should do more of them. Over here, I'm finishing up the first season of Treme (from David Simon) and have started watching the American remake of Shameless. Treme is fantastic (and full of people from The Wire). And I'm finding I like the American Shameless a lot. Usually our remakes of your shows suck beyond all belief but I think Showtime has done a good job with this one. It seems pretty faithful to the original and that it is set in Chicago and reminds me of home makes me like it even more.

    And Happy Birthday.

  2. Took me a little while to work out the 'happy birthday', but you're right: February is the month of birth for this particular blog, so ta for the birthday wishes. Not sure it's really worth marking though: as you know, it took a while for this place to find a purpose; I only keep those earlier posts there because one shouldn't edit one's past (well, not too much).

    As for the show, it's great. I haven't seen any of the second season yet, but the first season is well worth watching. It's not as serious as, say, The Wire, but it's a damn good crime drama -- much like Leonard's books.

    I might do more TV musings, although television is so comprehensively covered on the web that it could be a bit pointless. With Justified, I don't think anyone else had done the comparisons between the show and the novels. But, I'm currently watching the old BBC adaptation of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (having already read the novel), and with the new film version due later this year, that could be an interesting one: from book to TV series to movie.

  3. I only meant more blogging on the intersection of books and TV - and only of the stuff you like and know about (of which, your series on Justified is a tremendous example). Perhaps Sleepyhead and the series Thorne or later in the year when the BBC does Case Histories. That kind of thing. But if you were to write about the X Factor or EastEnders, I'd read that too.

  4. You're far too kind. And in any case, I think I'd struggle to find anything interesting to write about Eastenders – not that anything I write is that interesting anyway. X Factor mind... you might have something there...

    Ooh, I didn't know Case Histories was being adapted for telly. Excellent. Ta for the heads up. As for Thorne, I managed to miss the whole of the Sleepyhead storyline when it was on. So that's scuppered that one.

  5. Excellent series of posts on JUSTIFIED. As one obsessed with literary adaptations myself, I've been reading Raylan's literary exploits while faithfully following the second season, and intended to do something similar on my own blog, but see you have completely pre-empted me. The Guinness TINKER TAILOR is one of my all-time favorite adaptations, and as I recall it was quite faithful to the novel. Enjoy!

  6. Thanks, Matthew. I did enjoy TINKER TAILOR, and you can read my take on that here:

  7. Here's some news - a new Raylan Givens novel called 'Raylan':

    I also think the Raylan Given stories are going to be collected as 'Fire In The Hole' for publication early next year.