No, this isn't a racy view of the racing city-simply the name of the horse at the center of Dobyns's lively new entry (following Saratoga Backtalk) in his series about laid-back Saratoga detective Charlie Bradshaw and his impossible sidekick, Vic Plotz. Fleshpot has been sold for more than half a million in the annual August horse sales, despite his tendency to nip people in the backside; Plotz, noticing after the sale that the horse no longer nips, wonders if a switch has been pulled. This observation puts him in trouble with the devious folk behind the switch, and since the powers that be in the city have never been fond of Plotz, his troubles soon accumulate. It takes three murders, a hilarious horsenapping (Fleshpot is stashed in the bridal suite of a hotel closed for the season) and a wing-ding climax at a parade honoring Saratoga's retiring police chief-another Plotz archenemy-before things are set to rights, more or less. Slow out of the gate but soon gaining pace, this tale stars Plotz, poet Dobyns's witty narrator: ``The Saratoga Republicans had gone to bed early in order to build up the energy to grind it to the poor the next day... The few lights we passed probably belonged to Democrats, staring sullenly into their whisky glasses and wondering where the thrill had gone.'' (July)
Charlie Bradshaw returns in his ninth mystery, which is set (as always) at the Saratoga racetrack and features a short-tempered racehorse named Fleshpot.
Vic Plotz, Saratoga sleuth Charlie Bradshaw's scene-stealing sidekick, is on the prowl again. Recovering from his own personal stock-market crash and attempting to fight off lawsuits from several ladies whose funds he invested, Vic takes a security job at the track, guarding . . . well, paintings. The gig proves a bit hoity toity for Vic's taste, so he spends his off time hanging out on the backstretch, where, soon enough, he finds himself embroiled in a horse kidnapping and a murder. Charlie lends a hand, but this, like Dobyns' previous Saratoga novel ("Saratoga Backtalk" ), is really Vic's show. Dobyns mixes comedy with crime as well as anyone on the mystery beat these days, but beyond pure laughs, his characters possess a down-to-earth humanity that is utterly charming. Whether it's Charlie's world-weary melancholia or Vic's senior-citizen hedonism, we recognize in these people the personality tics of real life.
Stephen Dobyns, author of eleven previous volumes of poetry and twenty novels, teaches in the MFA Writing Program at Warren Wilson College in North Carolina. He is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and three fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, as well as numerous other awards. His novels include the Charlie Bradshaw Mysteries, the bestselling thriller The Church of Dead Girls, and the acclaimed new novel, The Burn Palace.