Review: The Fat Man: A Tale of North Pole Noir by Ken Harmon

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How did I get it: The Library.

Why did I get it: I thought it looked entertaining. I got half-way through the book while waiting to get my car repaired earlier this month, and I’m glad I got back to it.

How would I rate it: 4 out of 5 stars.

My Summary: Gumdrop Coal, a 1,300 year old elf,  has always loved his job of trying to set naughty children straight. But thanks to Charles “Candy” Cane, his job is taken away and even Santa Claus doesn’t believe in Gumpdrop’s skills anymore. When he gets set up for murder, Gumdrop has to go all over the North Pole (from the Island of Misfit Toys via Tiny Tim’s ferry to Whoville where everyone speaks in rhyme to the Forest of Mistletoe where he speaks to three French hens to Kringle Town) to get answers and to clear his name.

My Review: This book was marvelous and a delightful holiday read with a few problems that I’ll get into later on in this section.

Gumdrop Coal was a bitterly fantastic elf who reads more like Sam Spade than anything else. I love that he was trained by Black Pete (Zwarte Piet) and is harder on naughty children and even adults whereas Santa just doesn’t have the ability to not love all children. The fact that Gumdrop is so very serious adds to the story’s humor especially when he says lines like “If you sing, you could be mistaken for a goose. Christmas is coming, bub, and the goose is getting fat” (pg. 112) or when he refers to interrogation as a chance to frolic and play, the Eskimo way. And, of course, the serious attitude of most of the characters involved in this story also really enables the reader to care about what happens to Gumdrop and his friends.

I can’t bring myself to reveal much about the plot so I’ll just highlight some other terrific aspects of this mystery.

The North Pole in this book is sort of like a patchwork quilt, grabbing at pieces of everyone’s favorite Christmas stories and movies only to weave them together in an absolutely clever way. Everything remains familiar, funny, and touching.

As a result, the crimes featured in this mystery all relate to traditional songs, books, and other Christmas staples too and most of them are shown through newspaper clippings from the Marshmallow World Gazette. I was very amused about poor Mr. Snowman getting plowed over shortly after some other kids knock him down. The same is true for characters in that aspects of their lives or backgrounds are pulled from holiday classics  such as a bad girl now grown into a bad woman demanding a hippopotamus for Christmas for only a hippopotamus will do.

The names of Harmon’s original characters are also hilarious such as Dingleberry Fizz ( elf best friend and definitely the best character), Rosebud Jubilee (elf love interest), Sherlock Stetson (a misfit toy cowpoke detective), and Tannenbomb (the giant nutcracker).

I have several complaints in regards to this book. They’re small ones, but worth noting, I think.

I did not find the use of aspects of the movie Citizen Kane all that amusing since it was done in a predictable and relatively annoying way. I thought it lacked the originality that I found in the rest of the novel. After awhile I also felt like too much was trying to be packed into one book taking away from the flow of the narration. The story was also hampered by the fact that it was hard to keep track of the plot twists that seemed to keep coming one after another.

I also felt that the black and white illustrations thrown into this book were very unecessary and poorly done. That, however, was probably not the author’s decision and wasn’t so bad that I couldn’t enjoy the book in of itself.

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About April

I'm a librarian, reader, and writer whose main goal in life is to be able to swim in books the way Scrooge McDuck swims in money. Although my reading choices will always be wildly eclectic and I never plan on leaving any genre unexplored, my favorite reads tend to be Fantasy, Young Adult, Science Fiction, Gay Romance, or Historical Fiction. You can e-mail me at inspector[dot]librarian[at]gmail[dot]com.
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