All Things Mysterious Volume Sixteen
Don't Underestimate the Fat Man!
Okay, a show of hands: who remembers Cannon, the television detective so memorably portrayed by plus-size actor William Conrad? I do!
Chunky detectives have been a staple of mysteries since about day one. Now why is that? The view from here is that no one takes a big fat detective seriously, thus empowering him or her to investigate with rather less hindrance than a slim sleuth might encounter.
William Conrad’s girth did not prevent him from having a storied career in radio and television. His was the original voice of Sheriff Matt Dillon in the Gunsmoke radio program but was turned down for the tv version in favor of James Arness, at least partly due to his weight. He was known for his deep voice, and the reader may recall hearing his voice-overs on The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, and his narration for the storied television drama The Fugitive prior to his five seasons starring as Frank Cannon.
Possibly the best known hefty sleuth is Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe. The star of 33 novels and 39 short stories, the best known resident of Manhattan’s 35th street and his Boswell, Archie Goodwin, usually remain ensconced in their brownstone and solve crimes, shall we say, remotely. Listen, it’s hard to move 300 pounds with any kind of alacrity! After all, corpulence is to be expected of a character whose first published spoken words were ‘Where’s the beer?’ Today the Wolfe series is continued by Robert Goldsborough.
Reginald Hill’s Dalziel and Pascoe series features a spectacularly mismatched but effective pair of investigators. These stories quite often deviate from the usual mystery fiction conventions in that they do not always ‘get their man,’ are not overly concerned with legal niceties, and don’t get along very well. Dalziel is the heroically proportioned of the pair and later in the series is plagued by health problems stemming from overeating and a drinks habit. Well plotted procedurals with enough twists and turns for any mystery fan!
What would you say is the defining characteristic of a detective called Fat Ollie Weeks? His impeccable dress? His professionalism? His love for orchids? (Wait, that’s Nero Wolfe.) Well, Ollie is a bigot and a sexist who inflicts his poor hygiene upon everyone he meets, but they don’t call him Fat Ollie for nothing! Part of Ed McBain’s long-running and extremely popular 87th precinct series, Fat Ollie is featured here in his own adventure. The manuscript of his novel is stolen, he’s learning to play the piano, he’s eating a bit less and washing a bit more, and he even has a lady friend!
Peter Diamond is overweight, as well as overbearing and overly opinionated. He thinks the old methods are best: knocking on doors and interviewing people face to face. He reluctantly admits to relying on forensic evidence, but he resists any use of computers. Peter Lovesey’s series featuring his take on the chubby sleuth has mayhem worthy of any crime novelist, but with a tongue in cheek element that lightens the tone.
The rotund lexicographer/history professor Dr. Gideon Fell, a creation of John Dickson Carr, was the sleuth in 23 mystery novels published from 1933 to 1967. A stalwart of the Golden Age of Mystery Fiction (™), he wears a cape and gets around through the use of two canes. None of which prevents him from solving locked room mysteries, a specialty of the author. Rumor has it that Fell was based on G.K. Chesterton.
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