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.