Review Blog

Oct 12 2010

Mice by Gordon Reece

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Allen and Unwin. 2010. ISBN 978 1742372338.
(Ages 14+) The creak on the stairway signals an intruder but abject fear immobilises Shelley and when her terrified mother appears with a young man holding a knife, she knows that their lives are about to end. Meek and mild, undemanding and acquiescent, the pair does his bidding. They are refugees from a controlling marriage where the husband insisted on his wife staying home with their child, thus destroying any hope for advancement in her chosen profession. Cast aside for a younger model, divorce was nasty and prolonged, leaving her with little and starting again was not easy. Meanwhile Shelley is horrifically bullied at school, culminating in her hair being set alight, causing major scarring on her face. Hiding from the world, the pair moves into Honeysuckle Cottage where they are hopeful of a peaceful, isolated life.
But an intruder interrupts their existence, and pushed beyond their limits, they take violent action. In so doing they are released from their meek acceptance and make changes to their lives, but they must destroy any evidence of the man they have killed and take steps to nullify the guilt they feel. Always watchful for the police or neighbours who may have seen them, the pair gets on with their life, becoming increasingly confident that they have got away with murder, until the hand delivered blackmail letter arrives. Again they revert to their submissive demeanor, asking questions of the man to fully understand how he could have known, and satisfied with his answers, take measures to dispose of him as well.
An amazing thriller which will cause some disquiet amongst its readers, the story of bullying by both dad and the girls at school is a common enough one, but this delivery packs a greater punch than I have read before. Shelley's perspective drags the reader into her world, cowering with her in the toilets as the girls set her hair alight, fuming with anger as the perpetrators get away with their attacks, forcing Shelley to be home schooled. But once the intruder is killed the story moves to a level rarely seen before. It is astonishing, arresting and surprising. On the one hand the reader will foresee a future when they will be caught, but on the other, will want them to get away with it, almost as a consolation for being bullied in the past. The moral dilemma is all encompassing, and when the second man turns up, the mice become cats, stealthily circling their prey, watching for any sign of weakness, ready to pounce. This suspense filled thriller will rarely be left on the shelves.
Fran Knight

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