The Thumbnail Book Reviews

by John Q McDonald --- 9 July 2002

The Rat Began to Gnaw the Rope

by C. W. Grafton

Perhaps the single most likely reason a reader of mysteries would be picking up this book these days would be the curiosity of seeing the writing by the father of one of today's most popular mystery authors, Sue Grafton. And yet, this book, without question, stands on its own as a witty, fast-paced, and intricate mystery. And one of its own time. First published in 1943, Grafton's novel calls upon the traditions of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, as well as other more or less hard boiled writers. The hero is a lawyer in Louisville, Kentucky (though the geography is a little convoluted here), hired to determine the true value of stock inherited by a young woman whose father was a lowly paid worker in the Harper products company. The trail leads to the lawyer's own numerous perils, and a couple murders. An ornate plot unfolds in the classical crime fiction manner. It is early in 1941, and the almost cinematic ambience lent to the book by its immediate descriptions gives it a nostalgic feel it wouldn't have had when it was published. There are also many of the social morés of its time. One would like to draw parallels between the elder and younger Graftons. Indeed, C. W. Grafton displays a sharp, self-deprecating wit often found in his daughter's fiction. There is also a common thread of realistic descriptions of places and characters, as well as attention to the more mundane details of the plot. C. W. Grafton published just a handful of novels, and my edition was published in 1983 and may now be out of print. That's too bad. This is a fun little contribution to the world of gritty crime fiction. Worth picking up if you can find it.

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