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Rats in a Maze

by Peter Bailey

Rating: ****

When widower and world-weary NYPD detective, Ray Fisher, is called to the scene of an early morning traffic accident with his new partner, Brad Lahoti, he assumes it’s a routine investigation. But there are a few unusual elements and when he and Brad take a witness statement from Mrs Sorenson, things begin to turn decidedly strange and sinister…

Rats in a Maze is an unusual book that disappears down a rabbit hole to become a complete genre mash-up and it works well. The opening lulls the reader into a false sense of genre security; it’s a well-written detective story; the prose is slick and simmering with clues. Ray Fisher is disillusionment personified with a streak of cynical humour and a tragic backstory. However, the narrative begins to curiously shift and for a while the reader is unsure whether this is going to become a supernatural thriller or something else entirely. Although some suspension of belief is required, it never seems to become too far-fetched. The reason that the story remains fairly credible is Ray. He is a convincing character that despite his flaws, is likeable. Mr Bailey has written him with just enough individuality so that he is not a cliché and in spite of how the plot pans out, his character remains pretty true to himself, which is no mean feat as the story carries him to some very extraordinary territory.

Characterisation is one of the strengths of this novel. Mr Bailey is really good at deft, physical detailing to bring an individual to life. The sharp descriptive imagery given to Vincent Cinetti during the meeting in the diner, although brief, was beautifully observed and dialogue throughout is authentically amusing. However, the quality of the prose also makes this a believable and investable read. The writing is well-paced and some lovely, unexpected metaphors give depth and a touch of poetry.

The reader begins with a crime thriller and ends up with a dystopian horror by way of conspiracy and science fiction. There are times when it all threatens to get a little woolly and I was not entirely persuaded by the last chapters but overall, Rats in a Maze is an entertaining and intriguing novel that capably straddles several genres. Well worth a read.

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