Mike Nelson's Death Rat! - Michael J. Nelson

I picked this one up in the John Day library, it being one of the few newer-looking fiction books they had. (Despite being published two years ago, I'm apparently the first person to check it out.) I have to admit: the cover really got my attention. The faux-pulp-fiction cover art (50s-era folks running in terror from a giant rat), the exclamation point in the title, the odd way that the title includes the author's name, but spelled differently from the author's name in the byline. What's up with that, anyway?

Anyway, the story is about Pontius Feeb, a history writer with a penchant for bad puns who's as pitiful as his name sounds. Realizing that the publishing world has given up on him, he writes an adventure novel about "a man who battles prejudice, his inner demons, and a cunning six-foot-long rat." Unfortunately, being a sixty-year-old history writer, he can't sell a gripping adventure book, so he finds a rugged-looking guy to do it for him, which of course sets off a chain of unexpected consequences.

The book is riddled with bizarre characters. Gus Bromstead appears to be a parody of Garrison Keillor, Minnesota's beloved author of the Dogwood series, homespun tales about those good-natured but not-too-smart Danes. King Leo may be inspired by Prince, the funk star who calls himself any number of ridiculous names and goes wild for Death Rat. Minnesota's governor, Bart Herzog, only plays a minor role but it's enough to make Keillor's skits about Jesse Ventura look tame.

The book is a great romp, and Nelson manages to skewer the publishing industry, pop stars, beloved authors, and Danes. His writing reminds me a little of Douglas Adams, only less British, and possibly Dave Barry, though less goofy. As it turns out, Nelson was also the host of Mystery Science Theater 3000 for a long stretch, so that may give you a taste of his sort of humor. I don't think he's written any other novels (his first two books are collections of short pieces, I think) so I don't know that I'll read anything else by him just yet, but Death Rat! is worth checking out.

Fed to jonathan's brain | May 28, 2005 | Comments (0)


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