Onyx reviews: Fat
Ollie's Book by Ed McBain
Fat Ollie's book may be the worst novel ever written. Not McBain's novel, but
the book written by Fat Ollie, a police detective in the 87th precinct series.
Fat Ollie, from the neighboring 88th, has made cameo appearances in several of
the fifty-one previous police procedurals, but he gets to star in the most
recent entry in this timeless series. He catches the lead in a very important
murder case—the victim was a man with mayoral aspirations shot while
rehearsing a speech at an auditorium. While Ollie's investigating the crime
scene, someone steals all but the last chapter of his precious manuscript from
his car. Since Ollie hadn't yet made a copy of the typescript, he's distraught
about the loss of the thirty pages over which he has agonized for many months.
Yes, his novel is a mere thirty-six pages long. Its brevity may be its only
redeeming feature. Ollie read all the customer reviews at Amazon for recent
police procedurals and distilled their likes and dislikes down to a few simple
rules around which he constructed his plot. Some of his guidelines criticize
characteristics of McBain's books. Ollie decides that stories with more than a
half dozen characters or more than a single plot line confuses readers, for
Fat Ollie is an equal-opportunity bigot, spewing racial epithets like volcano's
spew lava. He seems honestly confused when people are offended by his tirades.
He's racist, homophobic and misogynistic, which makes his decision to cast his
alter ego as a female patently hilarious because his Olivia shares most of his
prejudices and characteristics, except she isn't fat.
He isn't a bad cop—and he has some interesting character traits beyond his
bigotry—but he abdicates the politically sensitive murder investigation in
favor of the search for his precious literary achievement.
The culprit behind the missing manuscript, a cross-dressing Hispanic drug
addict, is clearly not a literary critic. He thinks Ollie's novel, titled
"Report to the Commissioner," is a real document with cleverly coded
details that will lead him to a trove of diamonds.
As amusing as Ollie is, he's too dislikable in general to carry a book, so
McBain brings on his familiar cast of regulars, including Detective Steve
Carella, whose life Ollie saved twice recently. In 270 pages, McBain manages to
juggle four major plot lines and his ensemble team, giving each character
several nice little scenes that contribute to their character development.
The detectives of the 87th exist in a bubble outside time where everything
around them changes but they remain the same. The city, technology, world events
and police procedures have all evolved over the past half century since the
first book, but Steve Carella remains forty years old. This means that McBain
never has to worry about his characters reaching retirement age or performing
unlikely heroic deeds while in their eighties or nineties.
McBain pokes fun at police procedurals, (including his own books), book critics,
agents and ponderous writing. Excerpts of Ollie's tortured prose are scattered
throughout the book as the junkie tries to read between the lines and locate the
missing diamonds that are only a figment of Ollie's imagination.
The primary murder mystery in Fat Ollie's Book is fairly pedestrian, and Carella
and his team solve it by following tried and true police procedures. What makes
the novel is the witty change of pace the author uses to breathe life into a
series that is older than many of his readers.
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