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chris grabenstein

Reading Group Discussion Questions
by Charlene Floyd, PhD

1. After an especially scary incident at a popular, rather pricey restaurant, Chief Baines is talking with a reporter. ". . . keep it vague," he says. "Just a prank that got out of hand. . . . no bullets or snipers. . ." "Are you issuing a gag order?" she asks. "No. More like a gag request." He gives her a special smile. (p. 81)

Later in the book, Ceepak admits, "if I had told my mother the truth that Christmas, perhaps she would have seen my father for what he really was." ( p. 223)

What is the relationship between reality and truth? Are there ever times when not telling the truth is the right thing to do?

How would Ceepak's response to these questions differ from that of Chief Baines, particularly given Ceepak's experiences in Iraq?

2. Ceepak reminds Danny, "actions, no matter how slight or insignificant, have ripple effects. Unintended consequences." (p. 223)

There are a number of seemingly "insignificant" actions and characters in Mad Mouse. Choose two or three to discuss. What makes some actions or characters seem insignificant, while others seem so important?

3. As they are trying to solve the case, Danny observes that Ceepak is "working the mission" but that Chief Baines "may have his own mission." (p.130) Danny's word choice is curious. Why does he call it a mission? What is Ceepak's mission? Chief Baines'? Are they mutually exclusive or would it be possible for both men to achieve their desired end?

4. At one of the many points when he 'drifts off', Danny observes that the higher elevation of the widow's walk, "made it easier to scream at heaven." (p.20) As Mad Mouse draws to a close, who do you imagine might be 'screaming at heaven'?

5. Danny recalls that his three female friends met in a dressing room, "I always figured they became friends because they had nothing left to hide from each other." (p. 121) Throughout the book it becomes apparent that a number of things—tangible and intangible—have been hidden, though none hidden so well that they cannot be found. Why is this? What does this tell us about human nature?

6. Work emerges as a major theme in Mad Mouse. The story focuses on a Labor Day celebration. It opens with Danny's push to secure a full-time job. In addition to those in the police department, the reader encounters waitresses, restaurateurs, politicians, businessmen, house painters, disc jockeys, school teachers, and shopkeepers, among many others. Are there those who seem to be particularly well suited to their job? Is work ever just a 'way to make a living'?

7. Mook's 'favorite summertime soda' was grape. The pages of Mad Mouse are filled with other summertime favorites: roasted marshmallows, ribs, baked beans, cole slaw, potato salad and ice cream cones. What is it about summertime food? Do you have favorites? Do you think you could find them on the boardwalk in Sea Haven?

8. Mad Mouse challenges readers to think about friendships and loyalty. Early in the book, Danny asks someone to "please remind me why we hang out with Mook." Becca shrugs. "Because we always have?" (p. 6) Later still thinking about Mook, Danny admits, "He may be an asshole now, but he was my friend first." (p. 106)

How do you respond to this? Does friendship last forever or do relationships change to the extent that friendship is no longer desirable or even possible?

9. Throughout the book Danny struggles to untangle his personal and professional life, which have become uncomfortably entwined. Are there ways in which 'taking it personally' (p. 75) can benefit one's work? Ways in which it obstructs one's work?

How would Ceepak respond to these questions?

10. Danny's description of the Mad Mouse roller coaster ride changes as the story evolves. What happens? Why?

11. There are a number of father/son relationships depicted in the book, some with absent fathers, some with absent sons, some where there is no blood relation at all. How does the father shape the son's life? How does the son shape the father? Why does Grabenstein choose to close the book with the Bruce Springsteen quotation?

All I can think of is being five years old
Following behind you at the beach
Tracing your footprints in the sand
Trying to walk like a man

12. Although only a few months have passed since Tilt A Whirl, would you argue that Danny has 'grown up' in any significant ways in Mad Mouse? If so, why? If not, why not?

13. Discuss the difference between a mystery and a thriller. Which is Mad Mouse? Why?