The Fat Man by Ken Harmon

I’m sitting here munching on butter cookies that one of the carpet cleaning/restoration companies dropped off at work. You know the kind that comes in the tin and you only get at Christmas. They’re not very good, but I do love anything sweet. I’m kind of like an elf that way.

Elves are fueled by sugar. Cookies, candy, cakes, pies – an elf’s sweet tooth is primal and not picky. Need six million Poopy Droopy Diaper Dolls with Wipe-Away by sundown? Toss a handful of elves a couple of sleeves of chocolate chip cookies and get out of the way. During the Christmas of ’88, when it seemed like every tyke in the hemisphere was clamoring for the Z-Box’s Grandma Hostage Ninja Rescue, Santa stepped up production with a few dozen rhubarb pies and a turbocharged how chocolate. (pg. 133)

But this “Tale of North Pole Noir” is definitely not sugary sweet. Gumdrop Coal has been in charge of the naughty list for ages, delivering coal to all the bad kids, encouraging them to change their ways. And then he gets fired. But Gumdrop is sure there’s more to his being let go than just the idea that Santa needs to show love to all the kids, regardless. No, Gumdrop is sure there’s a conspiracy afoot and Santa’s going to end up dead, working too hard to please too many greedy little kids. With the help of a friend and a reporter, Gumdrop is determined to get to the bottom of the mystery and save Santa.

It’s a great satire of the noir genre. Gumdrop’s a tough-talking elf with a tendency toward violence and several friends on the wrong side of town. The dame is Rosebud Jubilee, a reporter with a sassy, sexy attitude and I have to say that I love how the black and white illustration shows her, with her fedora and pursed lips. They are the perfect couple for this story.

A lot of the standard Christmas characters, stories and songs are brought to life in the pages, in a skewed way. The Lords A-Leaping are dangerous, bouncing uncontrollably with a tendency to land on and squash anyone in the way. The toys on Misfit Island are far from friendly, and trust me, you’ll never think about reindeer in the same way again.

The mystery is decent, the comedy is well-done. The only awkwardness, I think, was when the author inserts the true meaning of Christmas into the story.

We need the Child because none of us are worthy, none of us are really Nice, so there is His mercy. To need his mercy—and to get it— is the greatest gift we’ve ever been given. His mercy, His love is what makes things right, not justice. (pg. 255)

Always “the Child,” too. He’s never referred to as Jesus, which seemed rather odd. Now don’t get me wrong, Jesus is the reason I celebrate Christmas, but it just didn’t seem to fit in this particular story. I have no problem with books that mix Santa and religion, there are connections that can be made. But the references seemed out of place here. I would have preferred a flat out Santa and the elves story. There would have been a moral there, even without the “Child” bits.

This would be a nice stocking stuffer. I don’t think it’s destined to become a classic, but it’s a quick, fun read, especially for mystery lovers.

Purchase at Amazon, an Indie bookstore, or The Book Depository.

274 pages
Published October 28, 2010 by Penguin Group

3½ out of 5 stars

Challenges: 100+, Holiday Reading

I won my copy at Booking Mama and the above is my honest opinion.