Imagine you are on your way home from work. You’re thinking about your evening, maybe on your way to meet some friends for a pick-up basketball game. Minding your own business. Suddenly a coat is thrown over your head and you are manhandled off the subway, injected with something, dragged through the train station and shoved in a car that speeds away from the curb. All in a matter of minutes. You wake up hours later in a featureless room to be told you are now in Witness Protection and your life as you knew it has been erased. Oh yeah, and you have to tell THEM why you are there. That is the nightmare scenario that befalls average guy Jay Johnson in Fifty Mice.
The concept of a THEM is very prevalent in the book. It’s a nightmare out of Kafka with Jay trying to navigate a maze of questions while having no idea who to trust or what is happening. The main location for the novel is a secluded part of Catalina Island off the coast of California called Avalon. Avalon houses other people in Witness Protection as well as their handlers. Jay is never quite sure who is in the “program” and who is there to watch the everyone else. Complicating matters further, Jay is given a new identity with a wife and daughter to live with. Are they in the program too or something else entirely?
As part of the deal Jay is forced to meet with a psychiatrist. It is here that the reader starts to realize there is more to Jay’s past than we were first lead to believe. We come to find out maybe he’s not the average guy we thought he was. More interestingly, you understand the rationalization for putting him in Protection to begin with. As the mystery is slowly pieced together Jay forms an escape plan and sets in motion a chain of events that will reveal the truth and possibly reclaim his former life. That is if he still wants it.
Fifty Mice is a fast moving and entertaining book that unfortunately loses the suspense by the end. The reveal of the bad guy’s identity feels like something out of a bad 80’s thriller. Worse, I never really understood how all of the events lined up that set the story in motion. It’s a good thriller, it’s exciting and moves quickly. But ultimately it’s rather hollow and when the caper is finally revealed it’s a bit by the numbers and doesn’t really make a lot of sense. I have the feeling Pyne came up with the premise first and then had to engineer a specific character and events that could possibly justify that premise because if Jay wasn’t who he was with a very specific background the story wouldn’t work.
It’s a good thriller if you want a quick easy airport read and not much more than that. Don’t expect it to stick with you. I read it a couple of months ago and I’ll be damned if I can remember how the hell it ended. Not exactly a ringing endorsement, I know.