The Drowned Rat
The Drowned Rat starts with Barry relocating for a new job in Ohio, where he moves into an apartment where something always happens. This isn’t the life he had planned, but as he starts to bond with his coworkers and neighbors he discovers a series of notes addressed to someone named Jimmy. After he calls the note writer to explain that he’s not Jimmy, he makes the situation worse and finds a dead rat on his door with the note, “This is what I do to rats like you, Jimmy.” This has to be a case of mistaken identity, but his stalker doesn’t seem to believe him. Meanwhile, Barry’s best friend, Val, is an FBI agent who discovers a mole in the Kansas office, along with two missing confidential informants. As Val digs into the disappearances, he’s shocked to discover a connection that leads back to Barry.
The plot is divided between Val’s investigation and Barry being stalked. Val’s side of the plot is case-driven, so it’s intellectual and professional, slowly unfolding clues as he discovers new information. It’s typical to a crime format. Val has a serious personality and is quite wrapped up in his work, but his personal life trickles in as he deals with his third divorce and the friendly relationship he maintains with his ex-wife. He has a subtle personal journey that stays in the background. He faces the fact that he often thinks primarily of himself, and this may play a part in his relationships.
Barry’s life seems mundane in comparison to Val’s, but everything seems to just happen to him and seems to be connected to Val’s case. He has a normal life until he receives love notes that turn into angry notes that turn into threats and stalking. While this case unfolds around him, he also deals with the normal hassles of life. He makes friends with his new coworkers and deals with the neighbors who fight until they’re evicted and then two sisters who have a barking dog, while the maintenance superintendent often complains about the leaking skylight. These seem very normal compared to the stalking and the missing men, but Brian L. Gardner cleverly threads everything together to where it’s all connected in a surprising way.
The other mystery to solve is Barry’s health, which continues to spiral and plays a role in how he reacts to everything else that’s happening. It starts with headaches, which turn into a trip to have his eyes checked, which turns into seeing a dentist, but no one seems to truly believe all his symptoms, and eventually everyone shrugs it off as his being on the brink of pneumonia. His continuous illness makes him paranoid to the point he thinks he was poisoned, and so through this the action is amped up–though the sicker he becomes, the harder it is to tell what’s really going on and what to believe. The sicker he gets, the crazier it gets and the more it seems to connect.
Friendship plays a subtle role in the story as Val recalls how he met Barry through a childhood story of how he pushed away any attempt at being friends with Barry and then picked a fight that he eventually lost. Their friendship is put the test as Val gets so caught up in his own life that Barry gets sort of pushed aside to fall further and further into a delirious sort of state. Barry’s budding relationships with his neighbors and his co-workers create a family that takes care of him the more paranoid he becomes, making their role even more important. Gardner balances out every thread, moving them at different paces but bringing everything together in an action-packed conclusion. The Drowned Rat is an exciting read that keeps you guessing, perfect for crime and mystery lovers.
Brian L Gardner