The Fat Man: A Tale of North Pole Noir
Ken Harmon, 2010
What a shame. Harmon took a great premise and absolutely ruined it with shitty, shitty execution.
Premise: Gumdrop Coal is a sorry excuse for a noir hero, in a poorly constructed holiday world. Someone is framing him, or muscling him out, or trying to destroy Santa, or trying to ruin Christmas, or something. It isn't exactly coherent.
I loved this idea. Christmas elf noir? That could be great! The dark side of the holiday, maybe the dirty secrets of the elven sweatshops or some artifact is stolen and you don't know who to trust. A murder investigation, at least, right? Nothing that cool is in this book.
The story is boring. The characters are shallow, hollow, despicable things. The author doesn't come up with almost anything interesting; he's too busy stuffing the book with more horribly grating references to holiday crap.
What horrified me the most was the tone. It alternates wildly between fake-noir and sickly sweet. There's no tension. No drama. It's a thin excuse for a book that should be on fanfiction.net, not in hardcover.
There are maybe two scenes that show some originality and intriguing ideas. Of course, they're layered under so much derivative crap that it just doesn't feel worth it. Plus the main character is a cipher. He tries to be a noir hero, but the author's too scared to jettison all the cheerful Christmas crap, so he can't allow any real darkness into the story or the character. The whole reason noir heroes work is that they ride that line between staying afloat in a dark world and going too far in pursuit of their goals. When you don't allow that character actual moral ambiguity (he comes close, but only briefly), he becomes a useless whining mess.
Watching all those Christmas specials this past season helped me get more of the references. This did not help the book, since the references are either of terrible things, or do idiotic spins on okay things. If you pulled out all the references and direct quotations of other work (I HATE when authors do that! You can feel the slimy marketing mind-space it comes from. It's trying to make you feel like you're in on the joke: “Hey, I know that line! Hur, hur hur.” Ugh.) you wouldn't have enough left to fill a grade-school essay.
See, the world of this book isn't interesting. It's all the Christmas movies and songs this guy could think of, all forced into awkwardly close quarters, and desperately pretending they make sense together.
I don't want to save that world.
I want to nuke it from orbit. It's the only way to be sure.
Also, for a book about Santa, Jesus was talked about a lot. Plus it was in a way that made him sound like some sort of sparkly fairy princess. “The special Child.” It was faux-stealthly religious bullshit. That whole part (and the fucking end) was so stupid that I have no words for it.
One Star, or possibly No Stars. A Despicable Atrocity.