Maximum Bob, by Elmore Leonard

max bob

With an Elmore Leonard crime novel you know what to expect: unadorned style; an ensemble cast – a familiar mix of goodness, badness, weakness, arrogance, self-delusion and stupidity;  interweaving plot strands with the odd twist; crisp, credible dialogue; a good pace; masterful cutting of scenes; all coming together smoothly to a satisfying conclusion.  Maximum Bob follows this general formula, the cast intersecting in an improbable but enjoyable dance as the good guys try to work out what the hell the various bad guys are up to, a difficult job given that a lot of the time the bad guys aren’t sure themselves.

The title character, Judge Bob Gibbs, his soubriquet acquired as a result of his stringent sentencing policy, is absent for long stretches of the plot as it focuses on probation officer Kathy Baker and her various clients.  Several of these have reasons to hate the judge, and are contemplating revenge.  Kathy develops a relationship with a policeman while at the same time trying to rebuff Bob’s interest in her.  Philandering Bob has a New Age wife, Leanne, whose spiritual values he is sick of, and his less than inspired idea of utilising her phobia of alligators to persuade her to leave kick-starts the action.  Leanne channels a black slave girl who has been dead for 130 years, and while the general impression is that ‘Wanda’ is a sub-personality and Leanne a flake, there is a peculiar jarring moment when it appears that Leanne actually has psychic ability.

Despite the Florida setting, the novel does not have the developed ambience that Carl Hiaasen supplies in his books.  Characters are very much off the Elmore Leonard production line, without much depth (though we are briefly treated to the point-of-view of an alligator, possibly a literary first).  Still, you don’t pick up his books for profound insights into the human, or even reptilian, soul, but for a cleverly-told yarn (though it has to be said this one has a perfunctory ending), and that he delivers.  It would have been nice to have had more of Bob in it, though.

First posted on Goodreads website 14 January 2013

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