Picks and Pans Review: Riding the Rap
When Pulp Fiction director Quentin Tarantino first arrived in the country of the imagination he has since made his home, Elmore Leonard was already there—good news, as it turned out, for both of them. Author Leonard should be a rich source of material for Tarantino (who has optioned four of his novels), and Tarantino, in turn, may open up a new audience for Leonard. Certainly Tarantino's films so far—including 1992's bleak, bloody Reservoir Dogs—are closer in tone to Leonard's lean, quirky fiction than Hollywood's previous adaptations of it.
Like Leonard, Tarantino is infatuated with the skewed, dangerous, mundane world of people who work at crime for a living. Like Tarantino, Leonard advances his plots in spare, cinematic fashion, savoring the terse conversational give-and-take by which his characters make themselves known.
Raylan Givens, the federal marshal who tracks down a kidnapped bookmaker in Riding the Rap, is the prototypical Leonard hero: alert, knowing and un-illusioned. Facing a desperado who imagines himself the winner of an old-style western gunfight, Givens orders the man to drop his gun on the count of three. The twist is that Givens pulls his own gun on two. The theme of Riding the Rap is survival, and the key to surviving consists of knowing precisely what to do and when to do it. In Leonard's world, anything else—call it carelessness—is what gets people kidnapped, arrested or killed. (Delacorte, $22.95)