Mice – by Gordon Reece.

Published by Mantle – Pan Macmillan

February 2011

Mice – despite its title is not a book to be taken lightly.  From its brooding cover to the dark scenario into which Australian based writer/illustrator Gordon Reece plunges his central characters, this is a chilling tale of hiding, of murder, and of fear of discovery.

A new author to me and likely to many on these shores, Reece was born in the UK and has had 15 books for children and young adults published in Australia and in Spain, where he lived for six years.

So, I’m guessing, from that CV, that Mice is something of a serious gear-change for Reece and, if that’s the case, it’s a masterstroke.

Written from the perspective of a sixteen year old bullied schoolgirl, Shelley Rivers, everything about Mice is damaged and fractured, including the very title on the cover page itself.  Shelley is forced into being home-schooled following a horrendous barrage of mental and physical abuse from old school-friends, leaving her scarred emotionally and physically when, in a final attack, she is left burned by them.

Her mother, Elizabeth, has also been bullied her whole life, in her failed marriage and in her work.

It’s the thing that bonds them, they are timid, non-confrontational; they are, in their own words, Mice.

They are ‘Nati ad arum’; born with the victim gene.

And, as mice, they choose to run away, to run to the woods, to buy a small cottage and to hide there.  They build a new life for themselves, a life of peace, quiet, music and books.

And, for a while, they are left alone, they are safe.  But only for a while.

Their peace is shattered by the sound of a footstep on the staircase late one night.  Someone is in their house, meaning to rob them, but maybe meaning to hurt them, to kill them.

It’s time for the mice to make a decision – and it’s one that will mean that they can never be mice again.

Not wishing to give too much away here, I would say that the fact that the blurb indicates that if you liked the movie ‘Shallow Grave’ then this is for you, is a fine indicator of the tone and twists that follow and the darkness that the central characters have to face and make their decisions within.

British readers may recall the questions raised in the aftermath of the real life events of Tony Martin, the Norfolk farmer who shot a burglar as he left his property.  At what point does the victim become the assailant, or worse?

The daughter/mother relationship works very well and I was reminded at times of the David Fincher movie ‘Panic Room’ too, where the decisive role switches from mother to daughter at moments of the darkest judgements.

A novel about overcoming our fears and facing up to them, and it raises big questions about just how much we should stand our ground, how much we should fight back, and at what risks we may take when the red mist descends upon us in times of personal attack.

Thought provoking and reading like something that could easily have been torn from the front page of a newspaper – this is great fiction and I shall certainly look out for Graham Reece’s next one.

Keith B Walters

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