This book contains the worst crime fiction Ed McBain has ever produced, and that's meant as a complement. After all, it takes a gifted writer to write prose as bad as McBain produces on behalf of one of his less noble fictional creations, Detective First Grade Oliver Wendell Weeks. Weeks figures if he solves the crimes, what's the trick in making one up on paper and getting it on the best seller's lists? Not only does he have a well-worn list of "how-tos" for creating crime fiction ("BE SURE TO AVOID AMBIGUITY"), he's been doing his homework surveying the marketplace by reading Amazon.com reviews.
Clearly this guy is in trouble...
Weeks has been floating around McBain's 87th Precinct novels for a while, and now he gets center stage. Though he's with the 88th Precinct, and much disliked by the 87th Precinct detectives (and many readers) because of his nasty manner and blunt racist approach to life, he's still a decent detective.
Weeks kind of works as a protagonist only if you are playing it for laughs, and McBain is here. "Fat Ollie's Book" is one of the more comic 87th Precinct offerings. People still die, and others mourn, but this time there's more emphasis on laughs, incongruity, and malaprops, particularly when it comes to Weeks' novel. He decides it should star someone like himself (maybe not quite as fat) but female, since he discovers women buy more mysteries than men.
It's not exactly like Weeks transforms himself into Phil Donohue. His opus, "Report To The Commissioner," includes references to the narrator's ample bust and what a hot dish she is in general. She's writing from a locked room, you see, waiting for someone to kill her, and the first thing she wants you to know is there's a run in her stockings...
Then someone steals his manuscript, and Weeks goes on the warpath to get it back.
As a crime drama, "Fat Ollie's Book" is problematic. There's a couple of cases being worked on in tandem with Ollie's crisis, neither which holds much interest. The other detectives, like Steve Carella and Bert Kling, go through their paces but don't manage anything particularly interesting this time around. A problem with this book is that Weeks is probably the most colorful character anyway, and pushing him up to the foreground, especially as entertainingly as this, makes the others pale by comparison.
But as a crime comedy, "Fat Ollie's Book" is a nice reminder of a key reason so many of us visit the 87th Precinct: McBain's one funny writer, and he can spin a yarn.
Pity poor Ollie can't. But at least he can dance, play "Night And Day" on the piano, and come up for a derogatory epithet for anyone else on the planet.