Books by Stephen Dobyns

SARATOGA PAYBACK by Stephen Dobyns
Released: March 14, 2017

"Fans who come for the tangled, forgettable mystery will stay for the hero. The man's most mundane problems continue to be way more interesting than the criminal intrigues in which Dobyns (Is Fat Bob Dead Yet?, 2015, etc.) entangles him."
Shorn of the PI license and handgun permit that saw him through 10 variously loopy cases (Saratoga Strongbox, 1998, etc.), Charlie Bradshaw, whose business card now simply reads "Consultant," fights to get a piece of the action after he stumbles over a corpse outside his house. Read full book review >
IS FAT BOB DEAD YET? by Stephen Dobyns
Released: Sept. 1, 2015

"Fat Bob is, too. And where did that head go, anyway? A lively, laugh-out-loud winner."
Another darkly comic whodunit from veteran novelist Dobyns (The Burn Palace, 2013, etc.).Read full book review >
THE BURN PALACE by Stephen Dobyns
Released: Feb. 7, 2013

"Nicely done—and you may never look at doctors the same way again."
Atmospheric New England supernaturalism from not-Stephen King, but a latter-day disciple who deservedly earns the master's praise. Read full book review >
EATING NAKED by Stephen Dobyns
Released: May 1, 2000

" Forget the overexplicit morals Dobyns tacks onto so many of these tales (e.g., 'Writing . . . took a jumble of information, arranged the pieces, and turned it into a mystery') and let them work their considerable magic."
Though it's taken a while for veteran poet/novelist Dobyns (Boy in the Water, 1999, etc.) to get around to his first volume of short fiction, the 16 stories here are well worth the wait. Read full book review >
BOY IN THE WATER by Stephen Dobyns
Released: June 15, 1999

An enjoyably overstuffed thriller, set in the rarefied (and intrigue-laden) world of a New England prep school, from veteran writer Dobyns, author of the Saratoga mystery series and such interestingly different other novels as The Two Deaths of Sonora Puccini (1988) and The Wrestler's Cruel Study (1993). The story begins with an eerie Prologue in which two unidentified men observe—but do not report—the body of a dead boy floating in an indoor swimming pool. Then Dobyns backtracks to introduce several major characters. Primus inter pares is clinical psychologist Jim Hawthorne, mourning the deaths of his wife and daughter in the fire that left him permanently scarred, and finally ready to take up a new life as headmaster at New Hampshire's Bishop's Hill Academy, a formerly prestigious institution now scraping by as a haven for "damaged kids." We also meet teenaged Jessica Weaver, who moonlights as a stripper, earning money to finance a "hit" on a sexually abusive stepfather; and murderous drifter Frank LeBrun, a French-Canadian psychopath with a fondness for dumb jokes, who's hired by the Academy as a cook—with predictably nasty results. One can sense Dobyns cackling fiendishly as he skillfully depicts the slough of cross-purposes and corruption that is Bishop's Hill, revealing one desperate character and layer of complication after another. A lonely divorcÇe, a gay school-psychologist, a Machiavellian administrator, and an enigmatic chain-smoking student who's too inquisitive for his own good—all are among the vivid figures thrown into the mix of a breakaway narrative that blithely defies credibility as it marches swiftly through several linked catastrophes toward a Grand Guignol climax high above the embattled campus. Jim Hawthorne's mingled rectitude, compassion, and guilt are strikingly rendered—but it's not subtle characterization that will most please readers. More likely, they'll simply lean back and luxuriate in this clever tale's outrageously entertaining melodramatics. (First printing of 60,000) Read full book review >
Released: July 1, 1998

It's that unblushing reprobate Victor Plotz who narrates the tenth of the Charlie Bradshaw Saratoga novels (Saratoga Fleshpot, 1995, etc.), which means a point of view unredeemed by anything resembling a moral stricture. Plotz, 65, with a libido ever young—ask his inamorata Rosemary Larkin, a.k.a. the Queen of Softness—has never seen the lofty principle he'd give the time of day. "I have always been the pal of easy money," he says. It's that kind of thinking that puts the wrong strongbox in Plotz's grasping hands, resulting in an open breach with a pair of mafia muscle guys determined to restore the box—fat with 250,000 in legal tender—to its rightful godfather. Inevitably, the disagreement also involves Charlie, a knight-errant in a porkpie hat and seriously rumpled clothes, who's as principled as Plotz is amoral. There's Charlie minding his own modest but impeccably honest p.i. business when Plotz sends out an SOS. Charlie can't ignore it—or, for that matter, anyone's SOS. So one thing leads to another and finally to a madcap chase with more people running around after the loaded strongbox than have gathered in a forest since As You Like It. But that's when this very funny novel hits the snag that does it in, and the comedy turns to farce. And that's when readers will find themselves caring significantly less about what happens to Charlie and friends. Farce is the operative word here. It's like cold water thrown at readers half-mesmerized by a sure-handed storyteller: it wakes them up, breaks the spell. Farce is even riskier than satire, which, as everybody knows, is what closes on Saturday night. Read full book review >
Released: June 9, 1997

A brisk dip into the ice-cold waters of schizophrenia, nymphomania, and serial murder, by the author of Saratoga Fleshpot (1995), etc. Aurelia, New York, is one of those pleasant little towns that you need a good reason to visit and none at all to leave. Situated somewhere in the vicinity of Utica, it has been losing jobs and people for most of the last 50 years. But of late these disappearances have become increasingly macabre. People are horrified to discover Janice McNeal, the town floozy, murdered in her own home, while the amputation of her left hand—presumably as a souvenir—adds an especially grisly touch to an already-repugnant tableau. Janice's son Aaron is naturally disturbed by these events, but he himself begins to arouse more suspicion than sympathy when he chews off a classmate's ear during a lunchroom argument that gets out of hand. And, in rapid succession, three young girls vanish inexplicably, with no trace save the bundles of their clothing that mysteriously appear soon after their disappearance. Just what is going on? Much of the suspicion is directed toward a Marxist study group at the local college, although a vigilante bunch comprised of local rednecks also come to be suspect. Aaron, meanwhile, with his brooding fury and strange charisma, is not the weirdest guy in town by a long shot. The unnamed narrator, a high- school biology teacher, also secretly keeps a collection of nasty objects submerged in formaldehyde to impress his favorite pupils. The solution to the mystery comes at the end of a long trail of blood and perversity that might well have been worked out in a collaboration between John Webster and Grace Metalious. A vivid and deeply scary tale, then, that ultimately becomes too relentless: Dobyns needs to follow Poe's lead rather than Stephen King's and save the scariest bits for the end. (First printing of 60,000; film rights to HBO; Book-of-the-Month/Quality Paperback Book Club alternate selection; $75,000 ad/promo) Read full book review >
Released: July 1, 1995

Victor Plotz has dropped a bundle—his own money and his investment clients'—in the crash of '94, but the man is not without his resources: In a flash, thanks to his influential friend Charlie Bradshaw, he's decked out in a spiffy security- guard's uniform, keeping watch over the paintings decorating a Saratoga horse auction while Paul Butterworth, a bashful new shamus hired by one of his erstwhile clients' lawyers, keeps watch over him. Things seem to be looking up for Vic when he rescues a wealthy breeder from being trampled by an unruly colt and then announces that Fleshpot, a horse just sold for $530,000, has been switched during the disturbance. But they look back down again when his nemesis, Chief Harvey L. Peterson, finds Butterworth's corpse and arrests Vic for murder. Two more murders follow, but the real business here is Vic's who's-got-the-button game with Fleshpot, whom he discovers and then tries to hide—in a pickup truck, in the home of Charlie's girlfriend, Janey Burris, in the honeymoon suite of the local hotel—until he can turn him over for ready cash at a moment when no one will notice, during a parade in Peterson's honor. Right. A pleasant diversion that's no more than a frisky canter around the track for Vic and Charlie (Saratoga Backtalk, 1994, etc.). Sleep well, Dick Francis. Read full book review >
Released: July 18, 1994

Saratoga Springs PI Charlie Bradshaw's shifty-eyed sidekick, Victor Plotz, upstages him as both narrator and sleuth in this adventure, and oh, what a difference. When Bernard Logan, major stockholder in family-held stable Battlefield Farms, wants to hire Charlie because he's overheard his wife, Brenda Stanley, plotting with her foreman and lover, Randall Hanks, to kill him, Victor extorts a $1,000 retainer from him, and before Charlie can tell Logan that it's too much money and he's not interested anyway, Logan is dead, kicked in the head by a horse. Asked by Charlie to nose around Battlefield and see if he can get a rise out of any possible killers, Victor happily obliges—turning up evidence that the three horses the farm had lost in claiming races had all been snapped up by mysterious Laurel Hill Farms and goading Stanley, Logan's son Carl, his stepson Donald Croteau, and their creatures into accusing one another of murder. Nice family, huh? When three more murders follow, the police, convinced the killers have turned on each other, are ready to close the books on the case, but Charlie rouses himself just in time for a suitably nasty explanation. Victor, who talks like Archie Goodwin with an attitude, makes this entry a lot more formulaic than Saratoga Haunting (1993), but the man is sinfully funny just the same. Just wait till you see him get rid of his biker tenants or head off an unwanted visit from his granddaughter. Read full book review >
Released: Aug. 16, 1993

Two gorillas abduct a beautiful maiden from her Manhattan apartment; her fiancÇ, a celebrity wrestler, seeks her recovery. His quest is the framework of the most ambitious novel yet from Dobyns (After Shocks/Near Escapes, etc.)—a kind of philosophical joyride that frequently invokes Nietzsche as it investigates such matters as dualism and causality. Michael Marmaduke is a humble Jersey bodybuilder until wrestling trainer Primus Muldoon transforms the gentle blond giant into Marduk the Magnificent. Michael's gentleness becomes his Gimmick; Primus excels at transforming Nietzsche's ``bungled and botched'' into extravagant heroes and villains, at manipulating images to satisfy a mass-market culture. Rose White's kidnapping, arranged by her malevolent twin Violet, forces Michael out of his cocoon of scripted dualism. Now he must initiate action; now he must think; now the pussycat must become a tiger (exactly what Violet wants). Guided and misguided by Jack Molay, a mysterious old pedant, and by Deep Rat, Violet's sinister emissary, Michael confronts a bewildering variety of physical and intellectual challenges: fights with hybrid men/beasts, rap sessions with the Disputants, street gangs whose beliefs are grounded in early Christian heresies. But this is far from being Michael's story exclusively. Beginning with a wrestling bout at the Garden (the non-Edenic variety), omniscient narrator Dobyns plunges into the Manhattan anthill with the same furious energy that Dos Passos brought to Manhattan Transfer, summoning up a slew of minor characters, many of whom are transfixed by the image of Marduk, and all of whom are at the mercy of chance. There's a fine smoke-and- mirrors climax in which Michael defeats the Pseudo-Marduk and arrives at a place far, far beyond good and evil. There are sluggish passages here, notably those involving the hairsplitting Disputants, but only a churl would linger over defects in a work that is so stunningly imaginative, so liberating in its sense of possibilities in life and art, and so much fun. Read full book review >
Released: July 1, 1993

When the skull of Grace Mulholland, an office manager who disappeared 18 years ago with $233,000 from the insurance company she worked for, turns up buried under Jacko's Pool Hall, private eye Charlie Bradshaw, tormented by the way he handled the case as a cop back in 1974—he persuaded his boss that reclusive, painfully shy Mulholland had fled alone to Mexico—takes a long second look at the surviving cast, and at the ghost of his old, unrecognizable self. Meanwhile, Charlie is waiting for Maximum Tubbs, an old gambler, to finish dying, and he's getting threatening letters from Virgil Darcy, a paroled bank robber who swore revenge when Charlie put him away. As usual, literate, melancholy Charlie (Saratoga Hexameter, etc.) stands head and shoulders above the faceless cast of suspects, who, here, mainly provide him with an excuse to ruminate about time and death. Who cares whodunit when it's coming to everybody? Read full book review >
Released: June 1, 1991

Make it new, said Pound, and Dobyns always does: this account of four extraordinary weeks in the life of a large Chilean family, sheltering from a series of earthquakes, is his best novel yet. The Big One rocked southern Chile on May 22, 1960, to be followed by months of smaller quakes and tremors, mudslides and tsunamis. Four thousand people were killed; the moon turned blood-red; many believed the end of the world was at hand. The solidly bourgeois Droppelman family of Puerto Varas experiences convulsions of its own, culminating in scandal. The story is told by eight-year-old Lucy, whose father, a cattle merchant, is killed by a falling chimney brick; she and her two brothers take refuge in their grandparents' farmhouse. Lucy's grandmother is overjoyed by the quake, since she has all her brood under one roof; very much the controlling matriarch, she envisions them all dying and entering Heaven together. Ironically, the opposite will happen: they will survive, but fragmentedbecause the earthquake frees the adults from conventional restraints. Great-aunt Clotilde dresses up for Death in her sister's wedding gown; gluttonous Uncle Walterio steals his nephew's candy; Aunt Miriam is permanently tipsy. Uncles Hellmuth and Alcibiades, formerly best friends, fall out when Alcibiades becomes infatuated with Hellmuth's wife, a self-absorbed coquette; there is a bloody fistfight, and Alcibiades leaves town. Lucy herself, devastated by her rather's death, almost dies from a fever; her perspective is enriched by flash-forwards in which, 30 years later, the mature Lucy ponders the nature of memory and experience. Our often hapless attempts to control our lives are a common thread in Dobyns's work. But while Cold Dog Soup (1985) and The Two Deaths of Se§ora Puccini (1988) rested on outlandish premises, here Dobyns hits pay dirt with a credible situation that fits his preoccupations like a glove. In addition, little Lucy's beautifully modulated voice brings the hitherto missing ingredients of compassion and tenderness to this eccentric mÇnage. Read full book review >