An FBI safe house is set on fire outside El Paso, claiming the lives of several agents and an important witness. His testimony would have helped the authorities take down a local crime boss who had been untouchable. The Rat Catcher is an underworld urban legend, an assassin who silences mob informants, and it looks as if he’s struck again. The only problem is this time he’s made a mistake and there’s a survivor.
Rat Catcher is a self contained crime story and this graphic novel is published under the Vertigo Crime label. Andy Diggle is a well known British comic book writer who has written for Marvel and DC Comics. He also wrote The Losers comic series which was adapted into a movie last year. Rat Catcher marks Diggle’s return to Vertigo comics and it’s a tense and fast paced crime story about the hunt for a man who doesn’t exist.
Special Agent Moses Burdon is first on the scene after a report regarding a Witness Protection Program safehouse going up in flames. Somehow the location of the safe house was leaked and while everyone is busy pointing fingers, Burdon is determined to find out who is responsible for the murders. This case is very personal for him, as one of the agents killed in the fire was his partner of five years, William Lynch. With few leads, it’s doesn’t look as if he will make much progress, but then Burdon receives some good news—someone survived the fire. The unidentified man is rushed into surgery and Burdon hopes he will recover long enough to tell them what happened.
Local crime boss Rawlins doesn’t like the sound of that. The unnamed survivor could be the mob informant. The question then becomes: who is the man in hospital and how much does he know?
As the story progresses we learn that Lynch is obsessed with the mysterious figure of the Rat Catcher. Most people believe him to be nothing more than an urban myth to scare criminals and stop them from going to the authorities and becoming an informant. Lynch believed the Rat Catcher was a real person and was following up on a lead when he was killed along with others. Did he get too close to the truth, or was he just caught up in the middle of something else?
Rat Catcher is told from two points of view, Burdon and another character that remains anonymous for a large portion of the story. Each is searching for answers about the safe house and what really happened. It becomes clear that neither man is who they appear to be and each is keeping secrets which are gradually revealed. It then becomes a race with both characters trying to solve the mystery for different reasons before they are killed as several parties just want the whole thing to go away.
There are a number of twists and turns in the story so it’s difficult to talk about them without any spoilers. What I can say that is the story goes in a couple of unexpected directions and just when you start to settle down again the writer hits you with another gut punch. The mystery keeps playing out until the very end and sudden changes really kept me guessing and off balance.
The story is fast paced and it doesn’t give you any time to breathe. All of the characters feel very well lived-in, from the mouthy guy on the SWAT team to the world weary Burdon, and where necessary we find out more about their backstory. The artwork by Victor Ibanez works really well in black and white and is very in keeping with the genre. It’s clean and sharp-lined without too much detail and he uses the backgrounds in panels, particularly silent panels, to add to the emotion of tense moments.
Overall I thoroughly enjoyed this crime thriller and I think it is a great addition to the Vertigo Crime label. They are building up a great library of standalone stories from well known writers and artists whose styles really suit the genre.