The Dummy Line
by Bobby Cole
Copyright 2008 (revised 2011)
Summary: The Dummy Line is a new novel by first-time novelist Bobby Cole. Though it has a strong setting and adds some nice detail, it cannot overcome a formulaic plot.
Review: Deliverance is one of my favorite books. James Dickey’s story of a weekend outing gone wrong in the north Georgia mountains is that rare combination of an excellent adventure story and amazing prose. Bobby Cole mines this territory in The Dummy Line, but cannot hold a candle to Dickey’s original.
In Dummy Line, stockbroker Jake Crosby and his nine-year-old daughter Katy head to rural Sumter County, Alabama, for a weekend of turkey hunting. Their remote camp is conveniently out of cell phone range. During the night, they are attacked by a group of redneck degenerates who are so bad that “Local law enforcement had a running joke that they could never get a conviction on the gang because all of the members shared the same DNA” (p. 22). For Jake and Katy, a hellish night follows in the Alabama woods.
Strengths – Steeped in Southern Culture
When not busy writing, Cole is an executive in the Mossy Oak clothing firm, which caters to outdoorsmen. Cole has a great knowledge of hunting culture and his descriptions of hunting camps are filled with terrific detail that helps bring the story alive.
Cole lives in small-town West Point, Mississippi, and he uses his knowledge of the rural south and southern culture to good effect in The Dummy Line. I have been to Sumter County, Alabama, and his description “rings true” to me. Cole also includes other details that show his knowledge of southern culture:
– A trip to a Piggly-Wiggly grocery store,
– Jake’s love for Krispy Kreme doughnuts,
– a dog named Moon Pie,
– and a sheriff who loves Vienna sausages sprinkled with Tabasco sauce.
Problems – Cole Tells, But Doesn’t Show
The biggest problem with the book is that there are no real twists to keep the reader guessing. Instead, the novel takes place over a single night, but the reader labors over 300+ pages of excruciating detail to arrive at a predictable ending. Cole tells the same story from the point of view of about a dozen characters. Often, he recounts the same event from many points of view. This strips the book of any suspense or momentum and detracts from the center of the story – Jake and Katy’s plight.
Another basic mistake is that Cole ignores the favorite adage of creative writing teachers– show, don’t tell. That is, he provides an editorial that tells the reader how to interpret everything that happens. The book would be better if Cole had described events in detail and then allowed readers to interpret the events for themselves.
Finally, there is an element of sexism in The Dummy Line; Jake’s wife Morgan is a shrew who just doesn’t understand him. Morgan explains her attitude toward Jake in the following passage –
“Something had to give. She had material things, but she wasn’t happy. She needed more; she wanted more. I’m entitled to more. She had decided to leave Jake – she just had some details to work out” (p. 56).
The Dummy Line is a decent, lightweight “guy book” with a certain amount of violence, sex, and adventure. It wouldn’t be bad as a beach book, but it’s not a “must read” by any means.