Gumdrop Coal
Created by Ken Harmon

"The straight dope is that you don't want to end up on the Naughty List."
-- Gumdrop lays it on the line

The Fat Man, Ken Harmon’s cleverly titled comic novel, published just in time for you-know-what, sports a pretty good premise: the shotgun wedding of the hard-boiled crime story and our annual holiday-inspired orgy of consumption and hokum. Subtitled “A Tale of North Pole Noir,” it relates the story of GUMDROP COAL, a disillusioned elf currently on the outs with Old Saint Nick (the “Fat Man” of the title, of course).

Formerly in charge of the Coal Patrol, two-foot-three inch tall Gumdrop suddenly finds himself out on his pointed ear and under suspicion in the mysterious death of a long-time Naughty List resident. With the aid of wise-cracking girl elf reporter Rosebud Jubilee from The Marshmallow World Gazette and his best friend Dingleberry Fizz, a slow-witted but good-natured elf, he uncovers an evil conspiracy that threatens to wipe out both Santa Claus and Christmas for good.

Unfortunately, those looking for some sharp, pointed jabs (or even some gentle pokes) directed at the tropes of hard-boiled fiction and/or the excesses of the Christmas season may be disappointed. Despite the author’s claims of being a lifelong Chandler and Hammett fan there’s too little of the terse tone or rude wit of the hard-boiled school on display. Instead, the story soon devolves into an often clever but overly long Valentine to Christmas that’s more group hug than left jab. Any notion of satire is soon replaced by a wish list of nods, winks and mostly feckless shout-outs to everything from The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, and Elvis’s “Blue Christmas” to “Frosty the Snowman,” It’s a Wonderful Life and Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol. Even Linus from Peanuts drops by at one point to tell us “what Christmas is all about.” By then, even the most devout may find the author’s heavy-handed attempts to tie in the Santa Claus narrative with the Biblical telling of Birth of Christ a little iffy, and by the time Gumdrop must face off against, in descending order, twelve drummers drumming, eleven pipers piping, ten lords a-leaping and so on all the way down to a partridge in a pear tree, even the most die-hard Yule fan may be fervently wishing for Boxing Day. Next time: more Naughty, less Nice, please.

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Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.


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