Go to Homepage   Ed McBain: Fat Ollie's Book

 

Crescent Blues Book ViewsSimon & Schuster (Hardcover), ISBN 0743202708
It was forty years ago that I first came across Ed McBain's already well-established 87th Precinct series; yet here's another novel from a writer still very much in his creative prime. A horrifying realization.

Book: Ed McBain, Fat Ollie's Book
Fat Ollie Weeks of the 88th has written most of his first novel -- a full 36 pages, no less. On his way to the copy shop, he gets called to a murder scene: someone gunned down rising right-wing politician Lester Henderson. As Ollie busily alienates witnesses, a junkie robs his car and steals Ollie's only copy of the manuscript. Because the murder occurred in the 87th Precinct, the authorities agree that Ollie will share the investigation with Steve Carella and Bert Kling. In the event, of course, while Carella and Kling investigate the murder, Ollie shifts heaven and earth to try to get his manuscript back.

The thief -- who only wanted the smart attache case the manuscript came in -- assumes Ollie's police-procedural novel is a genuine report, but coded. If the thief could only decode the information he could find a fortune in diamonds and a beauteous babe police officer -- for Ollie wrote in the persona of one of the young female cops whose asses he's always trying to grab.

Ollie also doesn't know that the title of his novel (Report to the Commissioner) and its format (written as if a genuine report) echo precisely a crime novel of the past: James Mills's 1972 bestseller. In fact, Ollie doesn't even know who John Grisham is. His knowledge of literature extends thus far: (a) bestselling writers make a pile; (b) if you read the reviews on Amazon.com it's plain that the way to write a bestseller is to make your novel as witless as possible.

So amidst all the rest of the plot McBain treats us to extended parodies of the efforts of bad amateur writers. Unfortunately, although some parts do raise a smile, Ollie's text is actually not bad enough for that true ring of authenticity -- you can read far worse in print, thanks to the crusading efforts of companies like xLibris and iUniverse, and certainly you can easily uncover far worse, and far funnier, in the average slush pile. To put it as politely as possible, McBain clearly quailed at the prospect of the sort of in-depth research we have come to expect of crime writers.

Still, the novel is beautifully constructed and the prose rattles along with all the speed and wit of vintage McBain. A couple of nice little sideswipes at the lemming-like "bestsellers only" mentality of too much of today's publishing industry spice the brew. The juxtaposition of the humor -- not just in the parodies but also in "real life" -- with the pathos exposed by the murder investigation proves poignant. All in all, Fat Ollie's Book offers as much as you could expect, but just a tad less than you might have wanted.

John Grant

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