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IS FAT BOB DEAD YET? by Stephen Dobyns: Book Review

Is Fat Bob Dead Yet? is a crime caper par excellence.  It involves quarreling police detectives, con artists, gangsters, beautiful women, and more name changes than one would have thought possible.  It’s a terrific read.

New London, Connecticut police detectives Manny Streeter and Benny Vikström are partners who can hardly bear to be in the same room or the same police car.  They’re called to an accident on the city’s Bank Street involving a dump truck and a motorcycle that ended with the cyclist’s death.  The truck backed up in an alley and rode over the Harley and its driver, separating the driver’s head from his body.

Benny and Manny investigate, but it seems to have been simply a tragic accident.  The truck driver, Leon Pappalardo, says it was his first time driving the truck and he mistakenly hit the gas instead of the brake, crashing into a nearby car and then driving over the motorcyclist.  Benny, the more dogged of the two detectives, feels there’s something strange about how the accident happened, but he can’t put his finger on it.  “I’m not saying the accident was premeditated…but neither am I saying it wasn’t premeditated.”  So Manny reluctantly agrees with his partner that they should look more closely into the accident.

Connor Raposo is an almost-witness to the crash.  He was inside a cobbler’s shop, picking up the Bruno Magli shoes his older brother passed down to him.  When he goes onto the street to see the crash’s aftermath, he makes the acquaintance of Sal Nicoletti, another almost-witness.  Sal’s car’s battery died during the wait for the accident scene to be cleared, so Connor offers him a ride home.  Connor is almost certain that he’s seen Sal before, but Sal denies knowing him.  Connor, who is almost never completely certain of anything, seems to acquiesce, but the thought keeps nagging at him.

Connor has recently moved from the west coast to New London to be a part of a family business.  Well, sort of a family business.  Now called Bounty, Inc., in its previous incarnations it was known as Step Up, Inc. and A Shot in the Arm, Inc.  Whatever it’s called, it’s phony, preying on credulous people to contribute to the most outrageous charities:  e.g., Childhood Victims of Hoof-and-Mouth Disease and Organ Grinder Monkey Retirement Ranch.  And no, I’m not making these names up; I don’t have the imagination.

Besides the terrific plot and interesting/bizarre characters, another delight of the novel is the narrator’s voice.  Every once in a while the narrator showed up with a pertinent comment, making me laugh out loud.  He’s kind of shadowing the action, urging it to move along when he feels it’s too slow or explaining something that’s not quite clear from the dialog.  It’s a truly clever device.

And if you’re wondering about Fat Bob and his possible death, like many other things in the novel it involves two names:  Fat Bob is the nickname of the man who owns the motorcycle that was involved in the accident, and it’s also the name of the cycle.

Stephen Dobyns is the author of many novels, works of non-fiction, and award-winning poetry.  You can read more about him at various sites on the web.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.

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