By: R.H. Hale

What would you do to survive?  There is little doubt that the human will to survive is powerful and determined.  However, what if survival meant a future existence of pure anguish and agony?  Would you still feel the same way?  Really?  Make no mistake, this is a very difficult question to answer unless you have actually been placed into such a predicament.  It is also exactly the same situation which the main character in R.H. Hale’s spellbinding novel, Church Mouse, finds herself in.  Anyone looking for an excellent piece of literary fiction with a visceral and gripping storyline, will absolutely not be disappointed with this choice.

The novel is told in the first person narration perspective and focuses upon the plight of Rona who is the main character.  After the death of her guardians. Rona is left penniless and with no home to call her own.  She soon finds herself drawn to her family church and attains a job as a cleaner.  However, Rona really has no idea what this truly entails, or what it is she will actually be cleaning!  Soon she becomes a “watchdog” for the undead residents of the church.  What follows is a thrilling and gripping story which makes you question how far you would go to ensure your own survival.  Rona absolutely wrestles with this conundrum throughout the novel.  Will she remain a loyal vampire servant?  Or will she risk all and forsake this horrific path?

The plot of the novel is quite spellbinding.  It is written in such a way that the reader is literally sitting on the edge of their seat, anxious to read the next page.  The “will to survive at what cost?” theme is an ethical dilemma which can resonate with virtually every human being on the planet.  We have all most assuredly asked ourselves how far would we go to guarantee our own survival at one point or another.  The story revolves around this ethical question, but in a manner which is full of action, desperation and horror.  It is undoubtedly a revealing exploration of the darker side of human psychology.

I personally find it difficult to categorize this story under one specific genre label.  For instance, it very capably uses elements of horror such as foreshadowing, fear and suspense.  Nevertheless, at the same time, elements of literary fiction like thorough character development and a pinpoint focus on the plight of the human condition are contained as well.  The entire storyline flows with beautiful and descriptive writing which engrosses and captivates the reader.  When all these factors are considered, I would certainly support this work as a very nice fit in either genre.

Speaking of thorough character development…that is exactly the case in this novel.  We are able to see snippets of Rona when she is a young girl, which sets up her character to be developed throughout the rest of the novel.  Also, the first person narration style allows the readers direct access to her innermost thoughts and feelings.  I think it is entirely fair to say that Rona’s character does not simply develop- it explodes!  She experiences dramatic growth throughout the duration of the novel.  Also, there are a number of secondary characters such as Falkirk and the trio of vampires who are expertly developed in the story as well.  For instance, the main vampire leader, Serge, is shown to be quite complex.  Readers will find themselves charmed and starting to empathize with him at one moment, only to be repulsed by his brutal actions in the next.  Character development at its best!

R.H. Hale’s writing flows beautifully and has a poetic quality to it.  This is particularly shown with her setting description.  A small, local church is such an ideal and effective place for the story to occur.  Her description flows exceptionally well and adds to the build up of tension and suspense in the novel.  To use various literary devices to achieve such an effect, without actually boring the reader, is a talent all on its own.

I would recommend this novel for any adult lovers of high quality fiction.  There are some very horrific scenes, so be forewarned.  However, it is composed as a beautifully written story which not only captures the human imagination, but ultimately challenges our very concept of morality.

5 Gripping Stars for this one!