Review: Rattus New Yorkus by Hunter Shea

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My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Although humans are at the top of the food chain, we believe we're the dominant species on Earth largely only through our own hubris, and often to our own peril. In the genre of natural horror, this is often the predominant theme, and being too smart for our own good more often than not meets with disaster. Urban legend has it that there are five times as many rats as people populating the boroughs of New York City, while scientific estimates place the rat census at approximately 24% of the human population. Even at this much lower end, it's safe to say that's a lot of rats.

Rats are prime fodder for scary stories. They carried the plague, after all, and are host to a number of diseases, like rabies, salmonella, leptospirosis, and some even carry hantavirus. They've been the subject of horror books and movies - James Herbert wrote a series of novels about these suckers beginning with The Rats, and their celluloid exploits have scared audiences aplenty in Willard, Of Unknown Origin, and The Food of the Gods - but if you really want your blood to curdle, check out Morgan Spurlock's real-life horror documentary, Rats. Hell, just the trailer alone should make you shiver! These rapidly scurrying, long-tailed critters with those sharp incisors built just for gnawing can be frightening critters in the right hands...or even worse in the wrong hands.

Hunter Shea introduces us to New York exterminators Chris and Benny (or Benita if one must be formal), former spouses and now somewhat uncomfortable co-workers, as they take to the streets to test a brand-new rodenticide, Degenesis, which promises to control Manhattan's rat problem with maximum efficiency and efficacy. I probably don't need to tell you that it doesn't work, or that it ends up doing exactly the opposite of what its developer, Dr. Finch, promised. Oversexed and hyper-aggressive, the city's rats are ready to challenge mankind for ownership of the Big Apple.

When he's not delivering emotionally loaded whoppers like Creature, Shea writes fun, highly entertaining, playful creature features. Rattus New Yorkus falls firmly into the latter camp with Shea delivering a tight, perfectly sized, single-serving novella-length story. Chris, our first-person narrator, is New York through and through, delivering sarcastic responses and one-liners no matter the situation, while pining over his lost love. Since the story is confined to Chris's headspace, we don't get to know Benny except through him, but Shea gives us some nice flashes of insight into her personality and their lives together on the job, as well as a decent idea what their marriage had been like. The first person narration serves the story well, though, limiting the viewpoints on any given scene solely to Chris's observations and keeps things moving along pretty rapidly.

The human protagonists are a nice touch, but it's the rats that are the main attraction. After Degenesis fails spectacularly, Chris and Benny have more than their fair share of close calls and near misses as New York's rat population explodes exponentially all across town, turning into an uncontrollable calamity. I had a hunch Rattus New Yorkus was going to be right up my alley, and this suspicion was nicely solidified during an underground encounter roughly halfway through that made the hairs on my arms stand on end. From that point on, Shea charges firmly ahead toward a battle for the ages that will prove once and for all who's in charge - man or beast?

If that's not enough to sweeten the deal, there's a bevy of flamethrower action during the book's climax that rat haters are sure love. For the rat lovers out there, there's plenty of squirm inducing chompy-chomps on unsuspecting victims and tidal waves of rodents scouring the streets (waitaminute, tidal waves of rodents? I better jot that down. Could be the next Sharknado!).

[Note: I received an advanced reading copy of this title from the publisher, Kensington/Lyrical Underground, via NetGalley.]

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Michael Patrick Hicks

Michael Patrick Hicks is the author of the science fiction novels Convergence, an Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2013 Quarter-Finalist, and Emergence. His work has appeared in several anthologies, and he has written for the websites Graphic Novel Reporter and Audiobook Reviewer. In between compulsively buying books and adding titles that he does not have time for to his Netflix queue, he is hard at work on his next story.


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