Though the narrative is a bit heavy on description at the beginning–describing the New London scene from a bird’s eye view–it soon narrows the focus on hapless protagonist Connor ‘Zeco’ Raposo.
Connor is picking up a pair of shoes from a cobbler on an “early spring morning in late winter” when the idyllic day is upset by the loud roar of a motorcycle. Then a louder roar and a scream. Connor sees the motorcycle and rider have met a gruesome fate. “For a nanosecond the scene is without movement or sound, except for someone retching.” It’s quite the bloody scene.
The narrative cuts to “a difficult introduction” of a homeless man, known as Fidget. Fidget, too, was near enough to witness the motorcycle crash. Somehow he’s looking to profit from the seeming accident.
Once again, the narrative shifts to Detective Benny Vikström interrogating the the driver of the truck. Leon Pappalardo insists the guy on the bike ran into him. Vikström gives him a ticket for reckless driving.
The point of view employed here is third person omniscient, but it never seems to zoom in too close to the characters. We get a sense of characters’ thoughts, but not from their perspective so much as if from a camera’s medium long shot view. The narrative makes use of the collective “we” at times to guide us along.
As chapter two opens, Connor’s still trapped at the scene. His Mini-Cooper is blocked in. In conversing with another man at the scene, we learn that the bike is “Fat Bob”, or at least that’s its model. “The fact the bike has a name makes it real again. It’s like two people being killed.”
The cops, Vikström and his partner Manny Streeter, debate the accident. Vikström doesn’t think it was one. He doesn’t have any evidence to suggest it was other than premeditated. “The driver wasn’t telling the truth, or all of it, and I’d like to spend more time digging around.” They talk to Fidget, the homeless man, but he keeps quiet, still wanting to make a profit somehow.
And so the narrative shifts from Connor, to the detectives, to Fidget (albeit to a lesser extent) in turn. It’s all rather confusing, as if we’ve missed something. Was the accident a murder or is there something else at play here? If deliberate, how was it managed?
We later learn that a character shares the same name as the motorcycle. Fat Bob Rossi is presumed to be the one riding the ill-fated bike, but at the same time we hear the name Marco Santuzza, an accountant. At the accident scene, Connor had picked up the rider’s Harley cap with the name Marco Santuzza inside.
Once he’s able to leave, Connor also happens to give ride to a Sal Nicoletti. Sal is someone vaguely familiar to Connor, but he can’t place the man. Little does he know that a witness saw Sal give a signal to the truck driver moments before the crash.
Readers may not wonder long if Fat Bob is dead, but they’ll certainly wonder why someone might want him dead. Or was Santuzza set up as the intended victim all along?
Though the narrative feels too remote, the use of language paints the scenes, quirky characters, and their idiosyncrasies with flair. There’s wry humor here and a wealth of detail. We learn seemingly inconsequential tidbits about all the characters, including Vikström’s fear of heights, Manny’s karaoke obsession, Sal’s bling, and then there’s the scam artists of Bounty, Inc. (of which Connor is low man on the totem pole) and their many outrageous, humorous phone calls. Watch out for dognappers, Prom Queens Anonymous, and Orpans from Outer Space! How it all comes together is like a madcap comedy of errors, and, of course, the characters converge for the denouement.
Is Fat Bob Dead Yet? is described as “a comic suspense novel about a small-time con operation, a pair of combative detectives, and the pride, revenge, and deception that guide us all.” The novel certainly has the feel of a crime caper and will likely appeal to fans of Elmore Leonard or Carl Hiaasen.
Mystery fans may be familiar with Dobyns’ 1980s/1990s series set in and around Saratoga Springs, NY, featuring ex-cop Charlie Bradshaw. Syracusans may remember him from his time in the Creative Writing program at Syracuse University.