Stainless Steel Rat joins the Circus
by Harry Harrison
(Orion / Victor Gollancz, £16.99, 269 pages, hardback; published 1999. Gollancz, paperback, £5.99, published 11 October 2001.)
Slippery Jim DiGriz, aka The Stainless Steel Rat, is the hero of a long-running series of adventure stories by this popular and prolific author. The first Stainless Steel Rat novel was published in 1961, and they've been appearing at intervals over the past thirty-nine years. This is the latest escapade featuring the criminal-turned-law-enforcer turned-(in this book)-criminal again.
While engaged in a little computer hacking on the world of Usti nad Labam, Slippery Jim and his wife Angelina are hired by Imperitrix Von Kaiser-Czarski, multi billionaire banking tycoon, and the richest man in the galaxy, to apprehend the criminal behind a series of daring bank raids. With the (rather convenient) aid of Jim's son, James, a computer expert, they discover that in every town where a bank has been robbed, a circus was performing at the time of each raid. Slippery Jim decides to infiltrate the circus in the guise of a magician, and hires retired dipsomaniac the Great Grissini to teach him the tricks of the trade (the same tricks, oddly enough, as are extant in the twenty-first century). There follows a series of fast-paced, improbable and mad-cap adventures as the Stainless Steel Rat is double-crossed, duped, imprisoned, framed, threatened with death (and forced to commit crimes against his will) and much else besides, before outwitting the evil-doers and emerging triumphant.
Judging by the cover and the content of this book, it's aimed at the juvenile market. The level of writing, the speedy story, and the undeveloped characterisation might satisfy unsophisticated readers, but for those wanting a little more than a fast-paced narrative and bad jokes, I would recommend Harrison's novels Make Room, Make Room (filmed as Soylent Green) Captive Universe, the Eden series, and the fine stories collected in Two Tales and Eight Tomorrows.
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© Eric Brown 15 January 2000