Book Review: The Rat Began to Gnaw the Rope by C.W Grafton

The Rat Began to Gnaw the Rope by C.W Grafton has many elements that make it a classic hard-boiled detective story, but Grafton’s story and characters give a unique perspective to a long standing genre. For one the main character, detective Gil Henry, is described as “short, chubby, and awkward”, as opposed to the generic idea of a tall and handsome detective you’d find in most other stories. The novel follows Gil as he embarks on a dangerous case that results in scandal and murder, and whether or not he finds his way out.

The novel opens in a very generic fashion, with Gil in his office when an attractive woman walks in with a case for him to solve. The woman is Ruth McClure, whose father’s death and the suspected stock fraud that followed from it leads Ruth to think something is astray. Early on it’s made very clear that Gil will find himself in danger if he continues to follow the case, but in crime story fashion he chooses to follow it anyway, regardless of risk. However, I think Gil’s character being set up as more of an average guy makes him much easier to root for, and gets you more invested into the story. I thought the mystery and plot itself were both solid, but there was nothing really amazing or mind blowing about the story or how Grafton constructs the mystery. If I had to give one main criticism towards the book, I would say that the ending and Grafton’s way of revealing who was the culprit and everyone’s motivations could have been executed better.

In my opinion, I think one of the best parts of the book is the fast-paced writing. The chapters are usually one to three pages long, making it easily digestible but also faster paced and more tense. Furthermore, I think the setting of 1940s America and Grafton’s use of the vernacular at the time makes it a pretty interesting read. It never really lost my attention, and I think it does a good job of giving the reader a complete resolution that ties up most loose ends. I would recommend this as a read for anyone interested in the mystery genre, or anyone who is willing to try something new.

Book Review: Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut

From the moment you first begin reading Sirens of Titan, Kurt Vonnegut makes his distinctive voice and writing style very apparent.  When I first picked up the book in the science fiction section, I expected to find a run of the mill sci-fi epic, but instead I found a book that I think is one of the most unique I have ever read.

It begins in Newport, Rhode Island at the renowned Rumfoord estate, where a crowd has gathered, as usual, to watch the materialization of a man and his dog. The crowd is denied access as always, but they continue to show up, as they hope for even the smallest of chances to witness this miracle. This miracle is the appearance of a man by the name of Winston Niles Rumfoord and his dog Kazak, which has happened once every 59 days, due to a mysterious concept Vonnegut has concisely named “Chrono-Synclastic Infundibulum”. This phenomenon stretches Winston and his dog Kazak out across all of space past present and future, making him extremely sought after as a sort of fortune teller who has almost absolute knowledge about the human race and their future as a civilization.

By giving Winston the ability to basically know everything at all times I think Vonnegut makes him a very interesting character, as his actions are the driving force in the story but the purpose behind them isn’t revealed at all until the very end. I would definitely say this makes him the most intriguing character in the book, because from different perspectives he can be seen as the protagonist, antagonist, or even an omnipotent third person at times.

The story begins when a man named Malachi Constant gets a rare invite to this materialization, and ends up on a grand tour of the solar system that Vonnegut uses to question the concepts of free will, friendship, and loneliness. Winston tells Malachi that him and Winston’s current wife Beatrice will fall in love, and end up living out their final days on Titan, Saturn’s largest moon. Malachi and Beatrice’s absolute refusal of their fate and the futility of their actions in the end makes a powerful point about free will, and the progression of these two characters also give the reader insights into Vonnegut’s opinion on loneliness and friendship.

Personally, I really liked this book, because the plot is very unconventional, and Vonnegut’s vision of space and the story he writes are both extremely imaginative. The book also frequently employs the use of satirical and dark humor, which I thought was pretty fitting with the tone of the book as a whole. However, because of the unconventional plot structure of the book the writing can come across as a bit hard to follow, as the story is not made entirely clear until the very end and at many times the setting and focus of the book completely shifts out of nowhere.

Overall, I think this book is worth reading for anyone who is interested in sci-fi used as a medium for a greater message, such as the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey or the Dune Series by Frank Herbert, but also for anyone who wants to try something new or wants a unique and interesting read.