RARA-AVIS: Belated April: Rafferty's Rules

From: Jim Beaver ( jumblejim@prodigy.net)
Date: 09 May 2004

A little late for April's Southwest theme. I just finished W. Glenn Duncan's "Rafferty's Rules," the first of his series on Dallas P.I. Rafferty
(no first name that I noticed).

As a resident of Dallas for most of my first three decades, I read as much crime fiction set there as I can find, especially now that I've lived elsewhere for many years. It's like a cheap trip home, when the book captures the flavor of the town.

"Rafferty's Rules" was no help in this regard. Beyond a few cursory mentions of a section of town (Oak Cliff, Highland Park) or a street, there was little about this book that couldn't have taken place in Chicago (hell, without even changing the Highland Park stuff) or Minneapolis. Except that a good portion of the book actually takes place in a tiny town miles east of Dallas. But that too rang no louder of Texas than of, say, Kansas or Iowa to me.

As to the story itself, it seemed a bit contrived. Years after rescuing a little girl during a coffee shop holdup, ex-cop Rafferty is hired by the now-grown girl's family to render vengeance upon the motorcycle gangs that recently kidnapped, raped, and sold her. The girl is safe now, but nearly demented from the experience. Rafferty, with the help of his very non-Hawk-like Hawk (a redneck cowboy named Cowboy, described on the cover blurb as "the most dangerous man on earth" but actually nothing much more than a typical rancher with a fair hand on a shotgun) and of a girl who has turned her back on her motorcycling ways and is now working as a stripper, sets out to track down the very clich餠and mostly indistinguishable gang members.

Rafferty seems unusually willing simply to kill whomever he tangles with, especially in light of having been a cop. Cowboy shares this willingness. Neither shows much interest in having people arrested, and both are quite up to the task of just putting a bullet in even a wounded enemy in order to get on to the next part of their job. I found this rather off-putting, especially in light of the lip service Rafferty pays to codes of honor and doing the right thing even if it hurts. Talk was the only evidence I saw in Rafferty of these codes.

As to the writing, Duncan seems to have read all the right books, and he plays the familiar notes, even if some mixed messages (see above) interrupt the flow. Rafferty is a little too cute with the bon mots without coming near Marlovian panache. And the titular "rules" Rafferty spits out periodically ("Rafferty's Rule Number Five: If a client can afford it, he -or she - pays top dollar.") have little style (obviously) and do little but clutter up the story with more cutesiness. I hope, if I talk myself into reading any more of the series, that Duncan drops this gimmick. If a writer is going to scream "Gimmick" in the title and on every fourth page, I want him to have one that either propels the story or compels me to read on to the next example out of sheer amusement.

Oh, yeah. There's a secondary "Hawk," Cowboy's wife, Mimi, a typical cowboy's wife, except she gutshoots people without blinking an eye and she's apparently a midget. She mainly shows up unexpectedly to shoot people when Rafferty is up against the wall without recourse.

Jim Beaver

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