This article was first published in Blogcritics
Humor in literature has always been a precious rarity: just a handful of writers excelled in this field. Nowadays, when a massive commercial promotion of mediocrity is funded by big publishers, discovering a really good read in this category is less realistic than inheriting a big fortune from poor relatives. Fat chance, some would say. But I found one! Coincidentally, the novel’s title is Fat Chance, by R.J. Leahy.
A fabulous piece of literature, written by a true man of letters, it is saturated with laugh, wits, mystery, and weird personalities. Actually, upon some consideration, his characters may seem not that weird: we all meet them everyday, but fail to register their idiosyncrasy in our minds, not to mention that we miss to notice our own.
The story amuses you from the start. McDermott, a private investigator, sees a big woman running past the dinner window. “She laughed as she ran, trotting around the parking lot like some great flamingo with a glandular problem.” That’s how he introduces a female persona, who later becomes the object of his investigation. Her name is Patty Chance; she weighs about two-hundred and fifty pounds; everyone knows her as Fat Chance.
McDermott, having a few grey spots in his biography, took an offer to beat out of New York and drive a Mercedes to California. Quite unexpectedly his car stopped dead at a gas station in a tiny rural settlement in New Mexico.
A mechanic, with a tag “Jim” on his overall, examines the Mercedes. When McDermott calls him out “Jim”, as the tag indicated, the mechanic says that he is not Jim: the overall that he wears is not his. As he does not introduce himself otherwise, McDermott calls him “Not-Jim”, and mentions him later this way.
Not-Jim reciprocates. After he finds out that McDermott is a private investigator but has never solved a murder case, Not-Jim introduces him to everyone as a detective who has never solved a murder case.
Not-Jim found out that the fuel injector of the Mercedes must be replaced. To bring it from the nearest dealer should take about two-three days. That’s what holds McDermott up in this tiny town, where he got involved in investigation, local politics and personal intrigues of people around him.
For every personality that comes his way McDermott gives unforgettable description. In the hotel where he stayed, a fifteen year old local Indian maid appears in the story this way: “With the race to adulthood, her ass lapped her and was now waiting for the rest of her body to catch up.”
Being a New Yorker, McDermott discovers that the rural people have their own wits and wisdom, worth to discover. For instance, Casual, who takes care of him in the hotel, responds to his remarks with her own: “Honey, only good girls keep a diary. Bad girls – they ain’t got the time.”
Local sheriff takes from McDermott the key from the Mercedes and orders him to remain in town until the case of Fatty Chance disappearance is solved. The legal reason is that McDermott is a witness of something related to the case. The true reason though is different: the sheriff has no experience in serious investigation, as in his town nothing serious happens. He wants McDermott to help him with the detective work. Sheriff, having lots of free time, is also a real estate agent: he is not very busy with this either, as in this small place it is hard to find buyers or sellers.
It turns out that people in a small town are no less sophisticated than those who live in megalopolis. However, in a small place it is hard to hide whatever we consider private and confidential. Greed and lust possess many souls; absurd belief in cosmic aliens is not a rarity either. When this is exposed in a small community, the whole ordeal becomes hilarious.
Surely McDermott cannot miss the local bar. There, he gets acquainted with the barman, who later somehow takes part in the story. Here is his first impression of the guy: “His head was narrow and long, with angles in all wrong places, like he’d entered this word not through the womb, but a keyhole.”
The author’s pondering of approaching the middle age is both philosophical and melancholic. Charming as it is, it ends up on a humorous note: “The only signal we have that middle age is approaching is an irresistible urge to buy a sports car. Women get menopause. Men get a mustang.”
As a big-city guy, McDermott now finds its previous hectic life not as attractive as it had seemed before. His description of the sulky New York morning makes me laugh: “The transition from the gray haze of night to the gray haze of day is too subtle, even for the undead.” Don’t we all know this half-existence of the undead when we rush to 9 to 5 job?
Whenever McDermott encounters people who are not to his liking, he finds in them the most prominent and absurdly funny features. Here is what he says about the face of the local Indian chief: “I’d seen sun-damaged skin before but this one was ridiculous. I’ve thrown away better-looking shoes.”
No need to say more about the author’s sense of humor. It is up to the reader to discover and enjoy it – you can’t miss it, it is on almost every page, if not in every paragraph. Leahy is a master of slang, dialogs, and description of scenery. Add to this an intriguing mystery plot and suspense, and you’ll get the idea what this novel is for those who understand and appreciate humor and good literature. I give it five stars, as there are no more in the system.