Just because FX’s Justified recently wrapped after six seasons, there’s no reason to pack your bags and leave Harlan County, Kentucky. When people like Raylan Givens, Boyd Crowder, and Ava Crowder—not to mention the show’s fantastic supporting cast of miscreants and gunslingers—come into your life, they’re here to stay.
Justified, based on award-winning crime writer Elmore Leonard’s short story “Fire in the Hole,” follows the exploits of U.S. Marshall Raylan Givens (played by Timothy Olyphant) as he doles out justice in his hometown of Harlan County, deep in Kentucky. His nemesis—and sometime ally—is Crowder, who commits nearly every crime one can imagine, and then some. Ava is the woman who loves them both and that they both, at various times, love—and who might be smarter than the two men combined. She’s equally handy with a shotgun, though Raylan is the undisputed fastest draw in Harlan.
Without spoiling the finale (that’s what the Internet is for) it’s still possible to imagine the trio living in tense harmony for eternity, thanks to this handy Harlan County reading list. Dive into one these four titles whenever you need a taste of wry, bullet-ridden humor.
Charlie Martz and Other Stories: The Unpublished Stories of Elmore Leonard by Elmore Leonard (William Morrow, 2015)
When Leonard died in 2013 at the age of 87 he left behind an impressive body of published work. Luckily for us, he also left a treasure trove of unpublished gems, as evidenced by this forthcoming posthumous collection (due June 18).
Written before Leonard became a well-known name in the crime and western circles, these stories were penned when his day job was in advertising copywriting. Several feature New Mexico lawman Charlie Martz, who could be considered a precursor to Raylan. Fans of the Western (did you know that film classics 3:10 to Yuma and The Tall T were adapted from Leonard short stories?) will enjoy “Confession,” while fans of Leonard’s gritty Detroit stories will like “One, Horizontal.” Bottom line: there’s something here for everyone.
Down Don’t Bother Me by Jason Miller (Bourbon Street Books, 2015)
If you’re a fan of Harlan County’s bizarre—and incredibly violent—population, Miller’s debut, set in the southern Illinois coal mining community known as “Little Egypt,” is for you.
In addition to being a hard-working miner trying to support himself and his young daughter, Slim moonlights as an unofficial private eye—he finds people who don’t want to be found. When the body of a reporter who’s been asking too many questions about the mine’s shady environmental practices turns up dead in the depths of the mine, the mine’s owner hires Slim to look into the case. Coal mining is a dangerous business, but it’s not half as dangerous for Slim as poking around into the town’s secrets. Gritty, violent, and profane, this first installment in a proposed series should appeal to Raylan—and Boyd—fans.
The Neon Rain by James Lee Burke (Simon & Schuster)
Back in 1987, James Lee Burke introduced readers to Detective Dave Robicheaux of New Orleans (later, he’ll relocate to New Iberia, Louisiana).
He’s a cop with baggage and his own way of doing things (sound familiar, Raylan?) and over the course of Burke’s series (2013’s Light of the World was the 20th series installment) Robicheaux has become one of the most complex characters in modern crime fiction. He shares Raylan’s sense of justice, regardless of the cost, and also the Kentuckian’s cutting sense of humor. If you’ve never had the pleasure of “working” a case along Robicheaux on the page, start with The Neon Rain and get ready for a long, wild ride.
Raylan by Elmore Leonard (William Morrow)
These three interlinked stories, disguised as a novel, are an excellent excuse to get an unadulterated Justified fix without turning on your television (or any of the various streaming services). Sure, Raylan is a little trigger-happy, but that’s one of the reasons we all love him (and he’s got damn good aim, too).
Fans of the show will relish the reappearance of Dickie and Coover Crowe, dope-dealing siblings of questionable intelligence, re-imagined for television as Dickie and Coover Bennett and played to perfection by Jeremy Davies and Brad William Henke, respectively. There’s also a nurse, affectionately—or not—known as Layla the Dragon Lady because of her proclivity for removing her patients’ organs.
All sorts of illegal ventures are booming in Harlan, and it’s up to Raylan to bring some semblance of law and order to town. Nothing beats Leonard’s laconic hero, gun in hand, Stetson on head.