Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Maximum Bob (Leonard, Elmore)

Rating: 5/5
Year: 1991
Genre: Crime
Read again? Yes

Kathy Baker is a parole officer. One of her "projects" is a kid named Dale Crowe, 2 days out of prison for hitting a cop. He broke parole in a drunken bar fight.

Maximum Bob Gibbs is the Palm Beach County judge presiding over Dale Crowe's fighting case. Bob ignores the underage drinking and the fight altogether, focusing on the kid's prior cop-hitting instead.

He's not called "Maximum" Bob for nothing. He likes making examples of people--and since the Crowe family are a bunch of habitual offenders, he decides to send the kid back to prison on a longer sentence.

Bob's also a lecherous 57-year-old. He quickly notices Kathy Baker and starts trying to put some moves on her. Of course he's married, but his wife's a crystal-gazing, aura-reading New Ager who's gained a little extra weight. She's also slightly crazy: she believes she can channel the spirit of a long-dead 12-year-old black girl.

Bob's tired of married life and really wants the house clear so he can lure that attractive young parole officer. He pays a man to drop a dead gator in the back yard, hoping to scare her away.

Gator's not quite dead. Eats her dog. The cops get involved, and they're thinking someone's trying to kill old Bob.

Meanwhile, Dale Crowe's uncle has been offered $10,000 to kill Maximum Bob.

Leonard's writing is tight! He metes out bits of exposition as needed, but keeps it on the fly. He doesn't pause to hold your hand or tell in-depth back stories.

Each character carries a piece of the puzzle. They all stand out and they're all interesting and believable. It's clear that we're not following heroic, important people here, just regulars--some on the take, some on the make, some just wanting the work day to end, thinking of that cold beer at home. We know their motivations: lust in the old judge, revenge in the ex-con, the parole officer who's afraid to say "no" to the judge who could easily wreck her career, the cops who know something hinky is going on.

Leonard's style is clean, free of wasted words or wasted time. He takes you from A to B, gives hints about C along the way, builds things a little more, and you're expected to keep up. He won't hold your hand.

This is how writing ought to be! Make every word count. After reading a couple of really bad Star Wars books and one Lackey book, this was an unexpected pleasure.

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