Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Review of Maximum Bob by Elmore Leonard (1991, Harper)

Florida judge Bob Gibbs wears his two nicknames – ‘Big’ and ‘Maximum’ – with pride. One is self-proclaimed, the other is what the media have labelled him for his over-zealous use of the longest prison sentence possible. He’s also not averse to using his position to do a little skirt-chasing and pulling favours. One of those favours is to try and scare his wife into leaving using a dead alligator that proves to be alive. He’s also become the target of a former recipient of his harsh sentencing, who happens to be in the charge of probation officer, Kathy Diaz Baker, who is also the subject of Maximum Bob’s lecherous attention. Unwittingly Kathy has found herself trying to stave off the amorous advances of a judge whilst trying to keep him alive, though it does bring her into contact with a handsome cop.

Maximum Bob is part of the Elmore Leonard’s Florida-set screwball noir crime novels, noted for their colourful characters, slightly wacky plots, and snappy dialogue. This outing focuses on a set of related escapades surrounding Judge Bob Gibbs, also known as ‘Maximum Bob’ for his typical sentencing. Gibbs has had enough of his wife, who is possessed by a black girl killed a hundred years before, and decides to get her to leave by playing on her fear of alligators. He’s also chasing after probation officer, Kathy Diaz Baker, and is the target of two criminals who want him dead. Gibbs is not quite as in control as he would like, Diaz has her sights set on someone else, and the criminals are not as smart as they think. As a set-up it’s okay without being compelling. Indeed, my sense was this was a paint-by-numbers Leonard story that was a passable read without having a strong enough hook or characters the reader really reviles or cares for beyond Kathy Diaz Baker. As usual the prose and dialogue was very easy on the eye, but the story is a little flat and never really captured the imagination.

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