Elmore Leonard, Maximum Bob

1991, that's how long ago Elmore Leonard’s Maximum Bob was published. But I was in university then, which means it’s basically the present as far as my memories are concerned.

You can’t convince me, sorry, that it has been 33 years since we first heard REM’s “Losing My Religion”; EMF’s “Unbelievable”; Massive Attack’s “Unfinished Sympathy” (from the amazing Blue Lines); “Right Here, Right Now” by the inimitable tho often-imitated Jesus Jones; Bonnie Raitt’s timeless “Something to Talk About” and “I Can’t Make You Love Me”; Lenny Kravitz’ “It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over”; Pearl Jam’s “Black”; and so, so much Roxette.

And then I read Maximum Bob, and it was like, okay, yes, it has been AT LEAST 33 years since all that music. Leonard’s social interactions are recognizably extremely late-80s, and almost perfectly not 2024. A tiny example, which has the virtue of letting me not have to talk about the characters’ exuberantly prolific shades of racism: here’s a detective describing several probation officers, meeting to distribute case files after one of them has quit:

“Michelle seemed to be in charge, the one passing out case folders before she sat down. Blond hair tied back, perfect posture, back arched in a way that accentuated her compact little can. Kathy had a nice one too. Both girls were right up there. If Michelle was an eight, Kathy, with those smart brown eyes, was an eight and a half…. It was strange, to hear these young girls talking about bad guys.” (p150)

Talking to Kathy a few pages later about some of her case files, the detective, Gary, identifies Michelle as the one who “stands real straight? Has nice posture,” and Kathy replies, “You mean the cute ass” (p161).

No point my saying much about this tightly plotted, character-stuffed, dialogue-filled novel, which was yet another wildly popular Leonard novel, this one even generating what I understand was a deeply peculiar TV series. Maximum Bob was Leonard’s 29th (!) novel, one that Andrew Yarrow in the New York Times (footnote 1) described as “the story of a crackpot cracker judge in Palm Beach County, Florida,” and while that’s not incorrect, it’s inaccurate; Judge Bob “Maximum Bob” Gibbs is just one of the two centres around which all the characters and action ricochet, and for me he’s less interesting than Kathy Baker.

Basically: Bob Gibbs is a terrible but popular judge, who when he’s not meting out arbitrarily lenient and harsh punishment in his courtroom is constantly looking for women to sexually harass spend some time with fuck, whose wife once worked as a mermaid at a public attraction but who now (among other things) channels the spirit of a 12-year-old slave who died in 1855. Kathy Baker’s a young and pretty Hispanic probation officer from a cop family (Gibbs hungrily emphasizes her being young, pretty and Hispanic), who drops onto Gibbs’ sexual radar as a result of supervising both Dale Crowe Jr and his uncle Elvin, and who’s forging a close connection with a detective investigating what may have been an attempted hit on Gibbs: assassination by alligator, of all things.

What’s going to happen to Gibbs, in both his love-life and his professional life? What’s going to happen to Baker, in her two lives? Won’t anybody think of the alligators?

If you want a detailed but spoiler-filled write-up about Maximum Bob, Patrick Reardon’s your man. It was a really fun read, and a quick one, but if I want another return to 1991, I’ll just sort my soundtrack by year. Certainly I can see why some readers are obsessed with Leonard, but….


How was THIS GUY a book-reviewer in the early 90s???


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