Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Raylan 02: Riding the Rap (Elmore Leonard)

Rating: 5
Year: 1995
Genre: Crime
Read Again? Yes

Deputy U.S. Marshall Raylan Givens drives up to Ocala to nab Dale Crowe on a warrant (Unlawful Flight to Avoid Prosecution). He puts Crowe in the driver's seat and makes him drive them back to Palm Beach County.

He's alone with the man convicted of battery on a police officer. Being a Crowe, he tries something stupid and ends up handcuffed to the steering wheel, still driving.

On the way, they pick up a pair of carjackers (dumbasses tried to jack Raylan's car), so now the Marshall has three prisoners and feels pretty damn smug.

Meanwhile, Harry Arno, the bookie-in-trouble from the first book, hires a bounty hunter to ferret out a $16,500 gambling debt owed by Warren "Chip" Ganz up in Manalpan, Florida. Harry's retiring and wants to settle his accounts.

The bounty hunter, Bobby "the Gardener" Deogracias, finds Ganz at his mother's run-down 9,000 square foot home. Ganz' mother is in a different sort of home, dying alone of Alzheimer's. Ganz himself is hardly living large, since his mother controls the house and whatever money there is.
The Gardener offers to prune Ganz' ears, one at a time, if he doesn't pay up the $18,000 he owes (finder's fee). More anatomy to follow as needed for motivation.

Chip sees an angle and proposes a business opportunity: he and The Gardener could team up, take Harry Arno hostage, and squeeze him for the money he's had to be skimming in all his time as a bookie. They'll split the take three ways, since Chip's already got another partner, man named Louis Lewis.

Harry vanishes. Raylan reluctantly tries to find him, prodded by Harry's lady friend. He finds some interesting puzzle pieces: a young, attractive professional psychic; a robbery at a little Mom & Pop grocery (with strawberry Jell-O as part of the take); one of the robbers threatened one victim with pruning shears. Raylan suspects Bobby Deo, "The Gardener," but lacks all the pieces just yet.

The genius of Elmore Leonard's tale is that we're not dealing with criminal masterminds. You've got the financially embarrassed, desperate man-of-the-house (Chip Ganz) who once read a book about hostages and how they were treated. Chip wants the caper done By The Book, but the practicalities keep this from going to plan. Straw mattresses are hard to come by in Palm Beach County. Crappy food, chains, and squalid shacks are kind of hard on the jailors and the jailed, and Chip's partners refuse to go along. Harry makes do with being chained in a run-down 9,000 square foot mansion instead.

Then there's Louis, who almost immediately starts trying to undercut the other guys; and The Gardener, who's so obsessed with his gunslinger-badass self-image that he fails to think very far ahead.

Greed is the only thing keeping the trio of kidnappers together, and each of them is plotting against the other two.

Fast-paced, easy reading here. I really like that the bad guys are just regular, stupid human beings instead of evil geniuses. It really doesn't take much more than that and a little greed to drive a typical crook.

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