You don’t send a gentleman to catch vermin. You send Hawkwood.
Ratcatcher while being quite enjoyable is a ‘Goldfinger’ book. Have you ever watched Goldfinger? Have you noticed that James Bond doesn’t really do anything. He falls into nearly every trap, and in the end, one of the other characters (Pussy Galore) saves the day. Okay, Bond was the catalyst for Pussy’s change of allegiances, but really Bond didn’t do to much. That brings us to Ratcatcher by James McGee.
Ratcatcher is a historical adventure novel set in London, during the early 1800’s. The hero of the story is a Bow Street Runner (an early policeman) called Matthew Hawkwood. Hawkwood appears to be almost an extension of Bernard Cromwell’s Sharpe character (I am sure many of you have read some of the Sharpe novels, or at least seen some of the tele-movies starring Sean Bean as Sharpe). Hawkwood’s history appears to be almost identical to the Sharpe stories – previously he was a military man – a good ‘thinking’ officer, but he is ordered to do something stupid by a superior officer who is a buffoon that comes from a life of wealth and privilege. This causes conflict and Hawkwood is dishonorably discharged. If you can imagine if Sharpe became a Bow Street Runner, then you’ve got Hawkwood.
The story starts with the highway robbery and murder of a naval courier. Hawkwood is assigned to find out why, and retrieve the missing papers. As this is a historical novel, this leads him to all the extremes of this era. He gets to attend a Grand Ball, meet a gorgeous lady named Catherine de Varesne, and shag her. Unfortunately his encounter with de Varesne also gets him into a pistol duel with the son of a wealthy Lord.
The story also sends him into seedy dens packed with cut-throats. One of these cut-throats happens to be Nathaniel Jago, who previously was a soldier under Hawkwood’s command. Even though, now they are on opposite sides of the law they team up to sort out the puzzle.
Towards the end the story moves into ‘Tin Tin’ or ‘Biggles’ territory. Not that that is a bad thing. This is where the story picks up pace and becomes solid entertainment. Following the clues, Hawkwood and Jago discover a plot by the dastardly French to kill the Prince Of Wales. This involves a new invention (or secret weapon, if you prefer) called a submarine.
Earlier I mentioned that Ratcatcher was a ‘Goldfinger’ book. That’s because Hawkwood falls into more traps than he sets. Sure, it’s his intervention that stops the evil plan succeeding, but really he doesn’t do as much as I had hoped at the outset. I wanted a bit more swashbuckling. The pistol duel was a good sequence, but it needed more. But despite my little digs or grievances with the story, and the character, Ratcatcher was never meant to be a piece of high art. It is meant to be fun, and on that level it really succeeds. It is very enjoyable, and I for one, am looking forwards to Matthew Hawkwoods next adventure.
Ratcatcher is the first in a series of books featuring Matthew Hawkwood. The other books are The Resurrectionists and Rapscallion.