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The Fat Man: A Tale of North Pole Noir    by Kenneth Harmon order for
Fat Man
by Kenneth Harmon
Order:  USA  Can
Dutton, 2012 (2010)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Kenneth Harmon's The Fat Man: A Tale of North Pole Noir is a holiday gem, not only for those who enjoy noir mysteries in the classic tradition of Chandler and Hammett, but also for anyone seeking to reconcile the materialistic excess of the holiday with its humble origins. Harmon's Santa avows, 'A child gave the world so much that night in Bethlehem ... I just want to find a way to spread the spirit of that wonderful gift!'

The narrator, hard-boiled, 1,300-year-old elf Gumdrop Coal (son of Snow White's crabby dwarf and an ugly stepsister) loves his job, which he sees as watching Santa's back by keeping toy demand down so Santa doesn't kill himself 'trying to fill a black hole of greed.' Gumdrop manages the Naughty List, and if you're on it, he plans to 'be there Christmas Eve to make sure you take your lumps.'

But then someone starts 'gunning for the Fat Man.' First Charles 'Candy' Cane persuades Santa to fire Gumdrop from Coal Patrol for being too tough on the naughty tykes. But it quickly gets worse. After Gumdrop shares his sorrows with friends on the Island of Misfit Toys, he's framed for the murder of Naughty List veteran Raymond Hall. On the run, he starts digging in Whoville and in the Forest of Mistletoe - which digs back hard, requiring a reindeer rescue.

Luckily Gumdrop has allies - his best friend, goodhearted Dingleberry Fizz who hero worships the mythical star of Kringle Comics' By George Adventures; and the femme fatale of the piece, pipsqueak, tough-talking rag reporter Rosebud Jublee. They help him face monster nutcracker Tannenbomb. But he's on his own in Pottersville, where an old friend has become a dangerous enemy with all Twelve Days of Christmas at his command.

Even the chapter headings - like I'm Telling You Why, Oh, Tannenbomb or I Can't Remember a Worse December - are hilarious in context. It's a close call for Gumdrop Coal, but fortunately Christmas is 'about hope and miracles', and the elf learns the important lesson that 'you get more done with mercy'. If you only read one book over the holidays, make it The Fat Man, which also makes the ideal stocking stuffer, way better than a lump of coal!

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