TBR Confessions: Fat Bob, Foxgloves, and Deadly Ghosts

My TBR Confessions include a smoking beagle, a wizard cop, and “ghosts” who aren't by Stephen Dobyns, Ben Aaronovitch, and Mary Roberts Rinehart.

CURRENTLY READING: Is Fat Bob Dead Yet? by Stephen Dobyns, which comes out September 1st. The novel begins with a shocking motorcycle accident in downtown New London, Connecticut. A nearby witness is a newcomer, an ambitious and disappointed young man who'll encounter gangs, crooks, cops and feds while working for a fundraising boondoggle addressing the bogus needs of ill-adjusted prom queens and nicotine-addicted beagles.

I became a fan of Dobyns after The Church of Dead Girls, a gorgeously claustrophobic kind of serial-killing Our Town. It's as scary and fine a small-town crime book as I've ever read. Part of what makes the novel great, IMO, is the continual unpacking of the characters and its floating perspective (a tricky maneuver which he nails), revealing secrets while obscuring others.

Dobyns also employs that technique in this darkly comic contemporary crime novel, which earns comparison to Carl Hiassen or Elmore Leonard, though I must toss in my hero, Donald E. Westlake. (You can read full write-ups from Kevin Canfield of the WaPo and Bev Vincent of Onyx Reviews.)  Is Fat Bob Dead Yet? has scores of pithily-drawn characters with memorably evocative names, destined to collide with each other. Above the scrum is the imposition of a (slightly) wiser narrative voice: “This would be the moment to use our cherry picker again, but how much can be said? Once we've reached a point beyond belief, words are unreliable…. Connor still hasn't seen the biker's head, which is just as well. It's been smashed to fragments, or on a rooftop, or is bobbing down the river.”

JUST FINISHED: Foxglove Summer by Ben Aaronovitch, number five in the Rivers of London series about a young, black London cop, Peter Grant, who's shunted into the much-mistrusted (for good reason) occult crimes area. When two girls go missing in the countryside, a simple offer of extra shoe leather turns up the kind of situation that gives task force leadership heartburn and PR issues. In this series, all the woo-woo is plainly not-celebrated, embarrassingly flouting the crisp acronyms and initiatives that compose modern policing. For me, all the procedural detail and realistic-seeming bureaucracy, with pokes at the absurdity of both, make the weird stuff delightfully weirder by contrast.

STOPPED HALFWAY: Having finished the aptly-titled The Confession by the fascinating Mary Roberts Rinehart, a title which I discuss a bit more at the Women of Mystery blog. Rinehart's plots can walk a line where characters are so beset by the unusual, the inexplicable, and worrying that they cease to trust their own conclusions and become prone to unearthly explanations for their mysteries. I find it more like classic psychological suspense, a kissing cousin to Gothic in its devotion to mood. My copy is a vintage Dell double-title, so the halfway stopping-point means I haven't finished Sight Unseen, but in the first few pages, the latter novel has assembled a cast of skeptical and curious neighbors for an evening's “fun” seance. Eventually, I will surely read on, because I have great faith that the dimly-lit escapade will end in tragedy!


  • Caught Read-Handed by Terrie Farley Moran, the 2nd cozy in her quirky Florida Read 'Em and Eat series
  • Concrete Angel by Patricia Abbott, a story of chilling family dysfunction in Philadephia in the seventies
  • Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett, originally appearing as a Blask Mask serial, featuring the tubby, middle-aged Continental Op and his pitiless retribution against the corrupt

Clare Toohey is a daytripper through genre gutters. She edits The M.O. and site wrangles here, freelances as an editor, writes short, surreal crime fiction, blogs at Women of Mystery, and tweets @clare2e.

See all posts by Clare Toohey at Criminal Element.


  1. Terrie Farley Moran

    Clare, thanks very much for mentioning Caught Read-Handed in your Confessions. Hope you enjoy! Also, when you compare Dobyns to Donald E. Westlake, you caught my attention.

  2. Clare 2e

    I want to get back to Sassy and Bridgy!

    Dobyns is also like Westlake in that he has a lot of range, from very serious to comic.

  3. Terrie Farley Moran

    I will definitely have to look into Dobyns. Thanks for the info.

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