Warning: Contains Spoilers!
It was a chilling, gruesome thing; the pawless arms dangled around and touched him so softly that it was like being tickled by the dead and caressed by ghosts.
Aufwader’s Thoughts: Now this is one that many of us remember, and if you’re reading for the first time, chances are you’ll recall it just as vividly in future. The next three chapters are what I’m right now naming the ‘Robin Jarvis litmus test’ – in short, if you can get through these and continue reading, congratulations, you can get through just about anything Mr Jarvis will throw at us in this trilogy, and so help you, you’re here till the bitter end!
The build-up to this chapter’s horrendous set-piece is brilliantly handled. First we’ve got Part II of ‘Oswald and Piccadilly in: A Brush with Protracted and Grisly Death’ as they finally escape the marauding rats. It’s thrilling, as our heroes zoom away on their makeshift raft. It’s chilling, as they are almost gnawed and almost drowned. It’s even funny, with Oswald’s phonetically-spelled lines being the most accurate written portrayal of someone with an injured nose ib eber come acwoss.
Then, they arrive, unknowingly, in Morgan’s lair. There’s a prickling, ominous atmosphere to the scene without anything explicitly horrible happening, lulling us into a false sense of security even as the shivers crawl up our spines. It is a rat’s lair, that much is clear. Piccadilly sneaks in. Oswald remains outside to ‘keep watch’ and, predictably, follows Piccadilly after a few moments of dithering. Piccadilly senses an odd, salty aroma and comments on it. Oswald steps in something disgusting. So far, so banal.
When the peeled mouse-skins are revealed, it’s like the first paragraph of the prologue magnified tenfold. We have come to know and love the Deptford Mice. We have cheered for them, we have cried with them, and now we feel Piccadilly’s dull horror as he explains about Bib. Once again, the evil of our villains is brought home and made personal, but in this case it is Morgan who takes the ghoulish spotlight, and the true menace of Jupiter’s faithful is brought out into the open.
Matt’s Thoughts: You know, it’s only when I slow down and write about one chapter at a time like this that I realise what a constant stream of macabre ideas that Jarvis throws in to his books. Morgan’s stockpile of flayed skins – if this wasn’t a story about mice – would place this well into the realm of adult writers like Stephen King, James Herbert and Thomas Harris.
It’s chilling stuff, but it yet again ratchets up the stakes against our heroes.
Which then makes it even worse, when they stumble into a lair of sleeping rats … But this is also great from a storytelling perspective, because Oswald’s tall rat-like look, far from just being an interesting physical description, now becomes a major plot point. Jarvis genius!