Thursday, August 23, 2007

'Vermin Street: Life in these Walls' by Mike Robinson

TITLE: Vermin Street: Life in these Walls
AUTHOR: Mike Robinson
PRICE: $14.95
GENRE: fantasy
ISBN: 978-1414051789
PUBLISHER: 1st Books (Authorhouse)

Vermin Street is in many ways a classic example of the reason I developed an interest in reading self-POD books in the first place. It is interesting, unusual and vibrant. It is the kind of vigorous and original special interest fiction that will have trouble finding a place in mainstream publishing but will appeal to a several groups of readers.

Essentially, this book is an exercise in ‘Vermin Noir’. In a complex world in the nooks and crannies of a house there is a full human like society of rodents and insects (with the occasional snake, rabbit and mustelid thrown in). The world is anthropomorphic to the extent of animals talking, wearing clothes and running business such as bars, taxis, and in the case of our protagonist being the Private Investigator (not to mention the seedier human activities such as organized crime, prostitution and alcoholism). However these are not just little people with fur, they are clearly also animals living with the harsh realities or predation and extermination attempts by humans.

Robinson’s world is, on the surface, an amusing tale of a rat PI. The combination of dirty, dead pan noir detective clich├ęs with a kind of seedy inverse-Disney world is humorous and clever. It also provides flashes of social commentary that are all the more effective for not being laboured. Here and there we see issues of race, culture, politics and the media filtered through the unique life and times of Blackrat, our anti-hero. Add to that a plot that is dark, emotional and complex and illustrations that are as appealing, flawed and quirky as the text and ‘Vermin Street’ was a engaging, memorable read.

Did I say flawed? Well, although the book is, for the most part, well edited and presented the text is sometimes a little unfocused and jumbled. Long flashbacks in italics are a little tiresome to read. A slightly firmer grip on the plot and the plausibility of some encounters and a little more veracity on the animal aspect of the world would have added some polish to this gem in the rough. But these were minor issues and mentioned only to complete the picture for those who read with mainstream expectations.

My advice to the author would be to take much better advantage of the multiple specialist audiences this book will have. Key amongst them would be anthro/furry enthusiasts, rat enthusiasts and noir fans. Each of these groups have multiple websites, bibliographies and chat groups and are starved of good quality reading material that caters to their interests.

RATING: 8/10

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