In my opinion, any book that includes the tag line “Someone’s Playing Reindeer Games for Keeps” is worth reading. Written in the style of a noir detective novel (think Dashiell Hammett or Raymond Chandler), this is advertising copywriter Ken Harmon’s first novel. It pokes fun at the genre, while creating a delightful yarn set in and around Kringle Town. Mostly, the book is silly, funny and entertaining. Harmon clearly has spent many hours immersed in classic Christmas imagery and stories.
The author fills his text with not-so-subtle puns and references to classic Christmas characters and fairy tales that most readers will recognize with a smile. He includes well-known names like Comet, Tiny Tim, the Whos of Whoville, Frosty the Snowman, and Kris Kringle. To these he introduces an enjoyable assortment of new, appropriately-named characters such as Charles “Candy” Cane, Dingleberry Fizz, Jubilee Rosebud, and the protagonist Gumdrop Coal.
Gumdrop is a 1,300 year-old elf who has been working by Santa’s side since the beginning. He’s a tough little fellow. For most of his career he was in charge of the Coal Patrol – a group of elves who deliver coal to kids on the naughty list. As the story begins Santa fires him for being too mean and Gumdrop Coal is left to his own devices. That’s when the intrigue starts and Coal finds himself up the North Pole, without a paddle. He’s becomes a pariah, accused of mischief and murder.
The majority of the book is Gumdrop’s adventure trying to clear his name, get the girl and survive the twelve days of Christmas. I found that a couple of times, Harmon is heavy-handed with his moral. It seems out of place with the rest of the book, for me. The book is wacky so often, when his message of good will toward all is so blatant it doesn’t mesh well with the rest of the story. But, this is a Christmas story, so it’s not unexpected.
Harmon leaves himself room to write more stories with these characters. Who knows, maybe the next title will be The Woman Behind The Fat Man. In any case, The Fat Man isn’t a standard Christmas story and it isn’t a children’s tale either. An easy read, it is a romp into silliness and a satirical tribute to noir detective novels. Go ahead and read it. I dare you. I double dog dare you.
Check the WRL catalog for The Fat Man