Sunday, July 27, 2008

REVIEW: Rat City

Title: Rat City
Author: Curt Colbert
Protagonist: hard-boiled gumshoe, Jake Rossiter
Setting: Seattle, Washington, 1947
Series: #1
Rating: B+

First Line: I'd never used my new pistol.

Nothing like trying to have your first cup of java in the morning when a big palooka storms in your office and tries to punch your ticket to the Pearly Gates.

The above sentence is one reason why Rat City sat on my TBR shelves for a few years. I've seen more than one comedy sketch about the tough private eye, and each time I had to decipher what in the world the characters were saying. I bought the book because of its setting, but when I opened it and realized what sort of book it was, visions of Humphrey Bogart, Maltese Falcons, Mike Hammer and the like began tap dancing in my head and I got a bit queasy. This week, I decided to do some Detesto Testing. I chose three books that I'd had for several years and decided that, one by one, I'd give each a chance. If I wasn't hooked by page 50, they were History. Rat City was the first of the three.

Jake Rossiter, former Marine in the South Pacific during World War II, is back home in Seattle and set up in his own private investigation business. He even has his own gal Friday, Miss Jenkins. When Big Ed, a very big, very angry bookie comes into his office and fires two shots at him, Rossiter doesn't have any alternative but to fire back. Big Ed lives just long enough to gasp, "Gloria!" Not long after that, someone else has another crack at killing him and gasps, "Gloria!" before he dies. It's enough to give Jake a complex, and he sure as shooting wants to know who this Gloria is. He calls in some extra help so he can work the Gloria investigation as well as continue with an old case that's been going nowhere.

Fortunately for me, although Rat City has the look and the feel of 1940s hard-boiled noir, Colbert didn't feel the necessity to use all the period private eye jargon. Colbert has an excellent cast of characters, and the plot moved right along like Rossiter's eight-cylinder Buick Roadmaster. I wouldn't even mind reading the next book in this series just to find out how Miss Jenkins' correspondence course is doing. It's nice to have my expectations kicked in the seat of the pants once in a while, and that's what Colbert certainly did.

A word of warning for anyone thinking of reading this book: it does have some rough language, and I'm not just talking about swear words. If racial slurs bother you at all, I would gently advise you not to read Rat City.

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