The Rat Began To Gnaw The Rope (1944) by C W Grafton

When the attractive Ruth McClure walks into the office of Gil Henry, the youngest partner in a law firm, he doesn’t think twice about offering to look into some stock that she has inherited from her father. The stock is currently valued at 30 dollars per share, so why is someone willing to pay her more than three times that price?

Against the wishes of the senior partners, Gil heads for Harpersville, only for someone to try and kill him before he even gets there. With the help of Ruth and her adopted brother, he begins to find there are more secrets in the town than he ever expected – secrets that someone will happily kill to keep from being revealed.

Ah, Book Group, the gift that keeps on giving. Every month, me and some other GAD aficionados get together to discuss our choice of reading. And every month… well, we’ve mostly been left wanting. I had high hopes for this one, mainly because I knew nothing about it before reading it, so I was hoping for a hidden gem.1

1A gem is a precious mineral that has been cut into an attractive state. It also refers to an excellent example of something and does not apply in this case.

This is in the Library Of Congress Crime Classics range – wonder where they got that idea – and I suppose the claim to this being a classic is that it was written by Sue Grafton’s father. Oh, and I suppose there is also the suspect-sounding claim that this was one of the first novels to marry the hard-boiled narrative with humour.2

2Humour is something that makes the recipient laugh. There is little present here.

Why am I riddling this review with footnotes? Well, because the book does exactly the same thing. It’s a really good way of defusing the tension to finish most chapters which are already pretty short with footnotes that don’t add anything at all to the reader apart from telling you, for example, who the famous person of the time being referred to is. Part of the charm I find in old books is these references that I go away and look up the ones that I care about. And some of these are really annoying, such as the one that speculates which city is being referred to when one character mentions taking the train into “the city”. Completely unnecessary, unless you are examining the book under a microscope. And if you are treating this as an historical document, you might find the use of the phrase “boy in the woodpile” somewhat odd. Although there is a footnote to hint at what the original phrase was…

Enough about footnotes, I hear you cry, what about the plot? The writing? The characters? Well, after the first third was full of legal details about accounts, shares and the suchlike, I was gripped.3

3This is sarcasm.

To be absolutely fair, I’m not a fan of hard-boiled crime fiction, “funny” or not, so it was going to have to be something special to sway me, and it’s not something special. I think it lost me the third out of at least six times that Gil is knocked unconscious from behind and not killed. I’m not sure, this may be a “joke” on behalf of the author. Hard to say. Similarly, is the reason behind a phone call a “joke”? Or just an example of a trope of the genre? Not sure, either way it didn’t work for me.

I’ve said this before on occasion, I’m probably the wrong person to review this fairly, as I don’t like the genre in particular and therefore someone who does might see this as a masterpiece. But it’s safe to say, I didn’t.


    • I suppose one issue was that, being bored by the whole thing, I switched off. There’s a small possibility that there was something deeply clever going on that I didn’t notice… possibly…


  1. “Well, after the first third was full of legal details about accounts, shares and the suchlike”

    Would Chandler be as admired if he’d said “When in doubt, have a n accountant come through a door with a debenture share in his hand”. I wonder?

    Liked by 1 person

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