Friday, 11 October 2019
GEORGE V. HIGGINS - THE RAT ON FIRE (1981)
Trouble. Money trouble, rent trouble, debt trouble, wife trouble, woman trouble, legal trouble, illegal, extra legal... when the problems get too much it sometimes seems a good idea to put a match to the one you'd most like to be without. And if it happens to be a slum full of blacks who don't pay the rent, and if you're well insured and Jerry Fenn, then it might seem an even better idea. But if you pay Leo and Jimmy to do it for you, you might just have another problem.
Never before available in paperback, The Rat on Fire strikes sparks off the streets and lights up the sleazy side of the American underworld with the glare.
The last of the holiday reads covered and another trip way back in time to Boston in the company of George V. Higgins.
Second time around for this one as I read it back in January, 2010 (3 stars) - I enjoyed it a bit more second time.
The police start up an investigation into a fire marshall they believe to be corrupt. Billy Malatesta, will take a bribe and not look too hard into the causes of a fire and the landlord can collect on the insurance. Jerry Fenn has a building that is costing him money. He has tenants that steal the copper pipes and throw their refuse in the yard, then complain about the state of the place and refuse to pay the rent. Fenn knows a guy, Leo Proctor who can solve his problem. The guy knows his stuff and knows Malatesta. Detective Lieutenant Inspector John Roscommon sets his two finest Mickey Sweeney and Donald Carbone after Proctor and the corrupt official.
It's another one that is heavily reliant on dialogue to advance the story and it's a style of writing that I really like. Mick and Don pose as truckers and hang out at a cafe which Proctor visits regularly. Moaning frequently about the lack of available Danish and life on the road, all the while eavesdropping and gathering information.
In the meanwhile we also learn about some of the residents of the building in question and their struggles, in particular the one lady who does pay rent to Fenn - Mavis Davis and her reprobate son and all round loose cannon Alfred.
Planning, scheming, rationalisations, money troubles, casual racism, frustration, surveillance, investigations, pastries, money, incentives, rat-catching, arson and a helluva lot more.
There's a rhythm to the story that I really liked. The time spent with different characters. Fenn meeting his guy and discussing the intended fire. Proctor enlisting some support and the regular meetings with the marshall. Fenn getting on with running his business as an entertainment agent. Roscommon catching up with his two guys. Mavis and her son Alfred with bust ups and legal trouble. There are also little off-shoots and cameos with stories about characters on the periphery who we never meet, but which add some substance and reality to the lives of the characters we are reading about.
I couldn't actually remember too much about the previous reading of the book. I think the passage of time has eroded my memories and it was new and fresh as if I was reading it for the first time.
Setting, plot, characters, length, outcome - all positives.
4 from 5
The Friends of Eddie Coyle and Cogan's Trade were the other two Higgins books I enjoyed recently.
Read (re-read) - September, 2019
Published - 1981
Page count - 194
Source - owned copy
Format - omnibus edition