Review: Kat and Mouse: Guns for Hire

October 3, 2009
By Frances

Published by Abner Senires, updates Mondays.

This review was written concerning the first three stories in the Kat and Mouse series, “A Family Affair,” “Easy Money” and “Babysitting Blues.”

I’ve watched anime, I’ve watched Buffy, I wrote a paper on female superheroes. I appreciate a story about female heroes that don’t take any shit, and that’s basically what Kat and Mouse: Guns for Hire is about: two futuristic gun-toting, sword-wielding busty babes in the style of the Dirty Pair, wreaking havoc mission by mission. It’s a fun premise than lends itself to web fiction. Kat and Mouse works with the anime-series structure, creating short, stand-alone stories that allow the author to reintroduce the characters for new readers while deepening them for returning fans. The website is simple: easy to navigate and easy to read.

The writing is very straightforward, more focused on action and dialogue than introspection, with sparse descriptions. Each story opens quickly in the middle of the story, which adds to the action-fan appeal. The characterizations are crisp and clean (of the main characters at least – the bad guys we’ll get to in a bit). The narration of Kat, laden with fluid slang, is on the mark, consistent and quick, and the highlight of the series. By turns sardonic, tough, kind, witty and deadpan, she is more than fit narrator – she’s a riot.

Kat’s relationships with her partner Mouse and her old mentor Murphy ground the story and give it its real force. I found myself very fond of Mouse by “Easy Money.” Their arguments and interactions are the most interesting parts of the story; in fact, most of the dialogue Kat has with her allies tends to be excellent, thoughtful and subtle. The world is well-created, if not very original, and explained to the reader easily without slowing down the pace of the plot.

The biggest hook of the series is the slang-oriented writing, in the vein of A Clockwork Orange or The Maltese Falcon. Normally I’m pretty harsh on whether these sorts of writing styles are necessary; if they don’t feel necessary to the story they become gimmicky and distracting and hurt what otherwise might be a decent tale. However, in this case the slang is a good choice on the part of the author and well-done, consistent without being heavy-handed. It serves to make the action sequences more delightful than if they had been written in a traditional voice, while also giving us insight into Kat’s frame of mind.

Though dialogue and characterization are the stories’ strong points, they are also the stories’ weaknesses when applied to the bad guys. In “A Family Affair” there is a lot of unnecessary repetition, especially in interrogation scenes of minor scumbags, that slows the action down to a crawl, especially when one question is reiterated over and over (“Where is the case?”).  We’re all familiar with the usual tactic – ask a question, get a denial, scare the guy shitless, gun fight, he breaks down and tells the truth. This often gets repeated without much variation throughout the first story, with interrogations happening one after the other. Soon, I’ve forgotten whom we’re interrogating and why we’re doing it. By “Babysitting Blues” interrogation scenes are more condensed, but I’d enjoy seeing the usual methods turned on their heads somehow.

Kat and Mouse tend to have elaborate, witty insults and threats. In the first story the bad guys’ insults are mostly fuck you’s or a variation of the word “bitch” – deaf bitch, ugly bitch, crazy bitch. Either the author wants to point out how most bad guys are misogynists that deserve a beating (a strong possibility) or these bad guys are uncreative. The repetition makes the insult a bit meaningless and renders all of our heroines’ adversaries identical.

The pitfall of slang-oriented writing , especially the kind that is tied so deeply to a particular character such as in this series, is that it runs the risk of trapping the author within a particular character (the character who is speaking to the reader). This sense of being trapped in someone’s point of view comes up during some fight scenes. In all three stories the narrator, Kat, engages in a fierce martial arts/gun-/knife-fight against a group of punks. She pumps herself full of “adrenaline stimulators and the world slid[es] into slo-mo.” When the world slows down, the fight slows down for us too. What should be an intense fight scene, fast and blurred and elbows-every-which-way, becomes a nicely-imagined but surprisingly slow ballet. Fighting is chaotic, and the chaos doesn’t come across on the page. “Hell breaks loose” around Kat but we don’t see it. It’s a larger problem in the first story, though it’s less of one in the second and third.

Kat and Mouse: Guns for Hire is an action-packed series that recalls such anime as Dirty Pair and the lighter episodes of Cowboy Bebop. Happily, you don’t have to be an anime fan to enjoy the series.  The narration is fun and snappy, with heroes that are genuinely butt-kicking, moral people. The bad guys leave a lot to be desired, but the stand-alone interludes hint at a major adversary to come in the future. If you like adrenaline-pumping, gun-toting bounty hunters, this is a series for you.

Grade: B+

Agree? Disagree?

Have a story you want me to review? Drop a comment below!

This review has also been posted to the Web Fiction Guide and Muse’s Success.

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