ROTTERS by Daniel Kraus

Reviewed by Joe TaylorROTTERS by Daniel Kraus, 448 pages, Random House
Review by Joe Taylor

Rotters by Daniel Kraus, Books by Daniel Kraus, Scowler by Daniel Kraus, Author Daniel KrausThis is the story of Joey Crouch’s education. No, not the one he receives at his new high school in Bloughton, Iowa, where he’s hunted by a pack of bullies like a frightened hare.

Joey’s mother is dead and his life in Chicago of video games, fresh laundry, and three squares a day is over. He’s traveled to Iowa to live with his father, a man he doesn’t know, who his case worker has told him is the town’s trash man. And his welcome to Bloughton isn’t a warm one. No one meets him at the desolate train station. He’s met instead with written directions to his new home and has to walk it for miles before finding the man he’s to spend the rest of his youth with.

His dad, Ken Harnett is tall with sun darkened skin and broad shoulders. He has blood shot eyes and dirt stained pants. He lives in a two room shack that smells of the “garbage” the man collects. Liquor bottles and pillars of newspapers are everywhere. There’s no food, no internet, and no phone. And his father disappears for days at a time without so much as a word. At least there are books. Thousands of them; largely though, they’re all about death in one way or another. Not a topic Joey is eager to delve into while propped up in his makeshift bed by the kitchen sink at night.

He’s a man of many mysteries is Ken Harnett. After Joey discovers a safe in his father’s closet and breaks the combination, he discovers a cache of jewelry, gold coins and thousands of dollars in an envelope; there’s also a can of gold teeth. A jump into the back of his father’s pick-up truck one morning leads to a gruesome discovery.

Grave Robbing is an art Harnett explains to him, one that goes back to the times of the ancient Pharaohs, to da Vinci and the birth of modern medicine. But despite the nobility of the art, it hasn’t always been well understood by the masses. Terrible things have happened to “Diggers” in the past: Loss of life; Loss of limbs…

High school student by day, grave robber’s apprentice by night, Joey Crouch learns what a man is capable of when he pushes his limits to extremes others don’t have the heart to achieve. And those bullies at his new high school? They get theirs of course (or should we say, of corpse)!

What a delectably dark writer Daniel Kraus is. We undertook the review of Rotters as a means of preparing for his next book, “Scowler”, due out in March 2013. Lucky us. We found a writer of loneliness and the fear of death, unafraid himself to delve into his darkest places and show us what he knows. He gives the world of Rotters a smell of sweet rot and damp earth, and animates it with “Rat Kings”, deranged diggers and a one legged preacher named Knox who protects the sinners he’s trying to save. The darkness only lets up in the end; by that time your ready for the light.

Rotters is not for the squeamish, but it is a book for people who enjoy learning something with their horror story. Kraus’ research into the world of Gravediggers is thorough and plied confidently in this tale with the second nature of a concert pianist who performs without his music.

The characters outside of Joey’s high school world are colorful and strange, proud standard bearers of a dying art (no pun intended) who all have their philosophies to impart. This reader was always locked in, finding meals and the gym worth putting off till the book was finished. Yaroos! is happy to have discovered another book we can give our 5 Stars to. Though five skulls might be more appropriate.