Raylan Givens, an ace detective in the Raymond Chandler mould, has encountered just about every shakedown artist and palooka in his native East Kentucky. His creator, Elmore Leonard, is a maestro of American noir; Raylan (Weidenfeld, £18.99), his latest thriller, presents a familiar impasto of choppy, street-savvy slang and hip-jive patter that verges on a kind of poetry.

Typically, Raylan charts a murky underworld where criminals are in cahoots with politicians, and where murder is a consequence of this corruption. In his curl-toed cowboy boots, Federal Marshal Givens is summoned to investigate a case of trafficking in human body-parts.

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A man has been found moribund in a bathtub with his kidneys apparently removed by surgery. Suspicion falls on Pervis ‘Speed’ Crowe, a 70-year-old marijuana dealer, and his two layabout stoner sons. Crowe denies all knowledge. ‘My sons farm reefer’, he tells Raylan, ‘they don’t cut into a man’s body parts. Even if they knew how.’

In the course of his sleuthing, Raylan exposes a network of gangland cuties complicit in the human organs trade. Chief among them is a Nigerian transplant nurse named Layla, who looks gorgeous in her shiny black plastic mac (and about as easy to spot as a kangaroo in a dinner jacket). When will Layla strike next?

If the jazz vernacular takes some getting used to (‘I mighta heard of the boy, but he don’t raise my interest none’), it repays the effort. Raylan is high-octane pop fiction of the darkest humour.  

This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated

Tags: Book review, Fiction, Noir, Novel, Thriller