by Stephen Dobyns
Hardcover, 351 pg.
Blue Rider Press, 2015
Read: October 8 – 12, 2015
Is Fat Bob Dead Yet? is essentially an Elmore Leonard book written by . . . someone else. It doesn’t have the zip, style and the panache of Leonard, though. It has a style and panache all of its own (almost no zip, though, but that’s okay).
Things get kicked off here with a nasty motorcycle accident that may not have been quite so accidental. The “accident” was witnessed by a homeless man named Fidget, a man too tan for Connecticut, and a man sporting a pompadour, the three of them spend the next few days finding several ways that their lives intertwine. The accident is investigated by Detectives Streeter and Vikström, who might be really good at their jobs if they spent a little less time bickering than the Battling Bickersons (one of the most reliable jokes early on is Vikström’s constant confusion over being asked if he was one of those famous Swedish detectives)
The tall, tan man is named Connor Raposo, a recently downsized teacher turned casino employee turned assistant to con-artists. Connor’s our entry point into this world, he introduces us the various and sundry scumbags, deadbeats, and other miscreants. Some of whom seem to have hearts of gold buried underneath a whole lot of cosmetic surgery or some sort of developmental delay. Others are just plain evil. In the middle is pretty much everyone else — Prom Queens whose life didn’t turn out the way they wanted them to, single moms working less-than-legitimate jobs, beagle owners, motorcycle aficionados, or guys just trying to please/impress the women in their life. There’s a real hodgepodge of humanity in all it’s strangeness on display here.
After a few chapters the narrator started dropping the royal “we” into the descriptions, which surprised me, but it worked. The further on you get into the novel, the narrator intrudes more and more into the story, editorializing as well as narrating. The stronger the narrative voice grew, the better the book got.
My one complaint is that it’s just too wordy — I’m not saying this should’ve been as minimalistic as something by Leonard, but it could’ve been a bit more streamlined. Was this amusing? Yes. Comic? Yes. Absurd? Absolutely. But I didn’t find it funny until the last few pages, and then I laughed a lot.
This novel is almost impossible to explain without giving everything away, before the setup is done, things are really underway — it’s not exactly fast-paced, but well-paced, slowly building up steam until it just barrels through the final events. A satisfying and very entertaining read. Give it a shot.