Saturday, November 1, 2014

The Rat On Fire (George V. Higgins, 1981)

Reads like a stage adaption of Elmore Leonard. Dark but funny, authentic and realistic but at the same time very believable. And, of course, full of interesting characters who establish themselves almost entirely through dialogues.

The story is unusual and cool too. Not some big-time multimillion caper involving pros and beautiful dames. There's simply this ass-hole lawyer who owns a run-down building in slums that gets infested by rats, so (obviously!) his tenants refuse to pay him the rent. So instead of fixing these problems (as you probably know yourself, this is something fucking landlords never do), he instead opts for an insurance arson scam.

I love the character and dialogue-driven plots, so this one should be 5/5, and it actually was for the first third or so. But the whole setup takes way too long before some action finally kicks off, and by then, it loses a lot of its initial momentum. Also, dialogues become repetitive, tedious and too long, so it sometimes feels like you are stuck inside endless monologues. It still works, and the plot sticks together, but everything simply becomes a bit boring, to be honest.

It's good and interesting stuff, but it feels more like an experiment than a finished product. I'll be definitely checking Higgins again.



There is no central hero. I think that of all the characters I most (dis)liked Jerry Fein.


Body count

Leo sets the building on fire by catching some rats, pouring gasoline over them (so that their skin itches!), setting the poor rodents on fire (!!!) and finally, releasing them into the interior of walls where electrical wires and pipes are. So yes, it's a pretty accurate title. Probably plural would be more appropriate.

But of course, the rat is just a metaphor for our bunch of villains, so - again - plural would be more accurate.
Pretty cool and somewhat funny. Letters and the burned match beneath them are placed in such position that one can imagine a slightly grinning face.

Cool lines:
Oddly enough, couldn't find anything to put here. There are no witty Tarantino-esque one-liners. The whole thing is too serious and realistic. Jerry's insane ravings about nig*#*! are memorable (as much as I hate to admit, some are also funny), but they are too politically incorrect to quote them here.

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