Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Is Fat Bob Dead Yet? by Stephen Dobyns

9780399171451
blue rider press/Penguin, 2015
351 pp

hardcover (from the publisher -- thank you!)

Before anyone gets all freaked about the dog on the cover smoking a cigarette, no animals were harmed  (or caught smoking) in this novel.  The smoking dog represents just one scam run by a couple of very odd people who solicit money over the phone, telling selected callers that their help is needed to Free Beagles from Nicotine Addiction.  Another selected group of unwary customers gets calls to support Prom Queens Anonymous (directed at fading beauties who never quite grew out of their prom queen days) while yet another specifically-targeted group receives pleas to support Orphans from Outer Space.  So don't worry about the dog or go and boycott the book because the dog may incite teens to take up smoking -- nothing like that goes on here.  But I just know someone will complain or take offense -- you heard it here.

I laughed myself silly throughout the first half of this book and a little beyond.  When I'd finished the book very very late last night, I took a look at what readers on goodreads had to say and discovered that I must have a strange, quirky sense of humor because not a whole lot of people found this book at all funny.  Then again, I'm known for enjoying the unconventional and the strange. My point is that it's a novel that may not appeal to everyone, but if you like snark and sarcasm, you'll find plenty of it here.

I won't get too much into plot but the novel begins with a horrific accident in which a motorcycle rider is sliced to ribbons and decapitated.  How is that funny, you may ask. Well, it's not, but everything that follows starts from this incident.  Based on several factors, the investigating officers are not so sure that it was indeed an accident but rather a carefully-planned murder.  The main character in this novel (Connor) just happens to be on scene  and gets stuck there; while standing around he meets another guy (Sal) who is stranded waiting for the accident to be cleared.  This fateful meeting will have major repercussions when Connor, certain that he knows the guy or that he's at least seen him before at a Detroit casino where he used to work, calls his brother to ask about him. He doesn't realize it but Connor has just stepped into a major hornet's nest involving the FBI, the witness protection program and a crazy Harley fanatic who goes by the name of Fat Bob.

a Fat Bob Harley, photo from Adam Campbell, 2014 at Cruiser

It's not so much the story but the characters who really drive this novel -- and there are any number of lunatics who populate this book. The two cops have a serious "passive-aggressive" thing going on in their work partnership.  Manny Streeter is crazy about karaoke and has spent a lot of money turning one of the bedrooms into a karaoke lounge complete with tables and rules; his partner, Benny Vikström really wants out of the partnership but finds that the only way out is to become a bike cop.  He also catches a lot of flak on the job when people joke about him being a "famous Swedish detective."   The scam artists at Bounty Inc. are just insane but they have given Connor a job working for them and say they are prepping him to take over the business; even the bad guys are sort of silly, with one exception, a crazy lunatic named Chucky. There's also a homeless guy who thinks he has a tail every time he gets through a bottle of Everclear.   Then there's Connor himself, the guy who through no fault of his own ends up in more than one situation he's having trouble keeping under control.  There really isn't one sane person in this book and when you combine them all what you get is a rather crazy mix of characters who keep things beyond lively.  You also get a murder mystery in and among all of the absurdity here, but it's more about the people than the story.

Now the downside to this book is that even though it's terribly clever, at the end it was like I was watching a movie. It's like the novel was really fun up to that point, but the ending had all of the trademarks of those films that feature the hapless hero and all of the crazies in his/her orbit. I could actually see things playing out in my head exactly to form.   If you've read this book you'll know precisely what I'm saying; if not, well you will.  I would like to think that the author did this on purpose, but who knows. So the bottom line is this: as the dustjacket blurb notes, it is an "entertainingly absurd" novel, and it made me laugh out loud for most of the book.  I don't know that I'd say it's a novel for everyone, because clearly some readers couldn't get into the humor of it all.  I say if you come into it with no expectations, making your mind a blank slate and not worrying about the whole mystery/crime thing, it will probably make for fun reading.  I have this tendency to root for the offbeat, so it was a good read for me.

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