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Dice by Claire Baylis


Four teenage boys invent a game involving the toss of a dice. Six girls are chosen. The boys throw the dice. The number which comes up determines which sex act each boy must perform. The question for the jury is, did the girls consent?


Claire Baylis’s Dice is a gripping, gruelling, sometimes devastating, courtroom drama told through the voice of each jury member over the three-week period of the trial. As we move amongst these characters, the insights into their past and present lives, suggest how they may decide the fates of the four young men accused of sexual molestation and rape.


Jake, for example, has recently discovered his own sixteen-year-old son, TJ, having sex with his new girlfriend, Melissa, who is only fourteen years old. Jake worries that the sex may not be entirely consensual; he worries that TJ may be mistreating Melissa. When the news of the Dice game breaks through the media, and he discovers this has happened in Rotorua, his own hometown, his first fearful thought is that TJ may be involved. As a jury member, will he be more inclined towards sympathy for these boys who are the same age as his own son?


Other jury members are similarly represented, and as each one reflects on the case, we see how their own personalities and experiences may affect their assessment of the evidence. Scott, for example, is so full of macho sleaze, so lacking in human empathy, that you wonder how his decision could possibly be rational and sound. At the same time, we discover that some jury members have experienced abuse which suggests that they will be more likely to be biased against the boys. The novel, as well as delivering a cracking narrative, questions a justice system which has us appraised by a group of miscellaneous people who bring their own pasts, prejudices and personalities to their final judgement.


Each jury member is vividly portrayed and strongly distinctive. Bethany, for example, is so much out of her depth that, rather than taking notes, she draws and scribbles on her notepad. Kahu, the youngest member and Maori, feels disconnected from the others and trapped by the intensity and weight of the trial. Mark, in stark contrast, is the businessman who likes to be in control; ‘it was obvious that Mark, in his forties and wearing a suit, wanted to be foreman’.


With recent prominent cases such as Roastbusters and Mama Hooch, Dice is a timely novel. It demonstrates, too, how situations which may initially appear clear-cut, may be open to question and interpretation. Were the girls, in fact, compliant? Was this simply a game which went wrong? Should these young boys have their lives ruined by a mistake? What about the girls’ lives? Aren’t the girls the actual victims here?

Claire Baylis’s Dice is powerful and confronting as it unflinchingly faces up to the issues of sexual assault, rape and consent and, as well, shines a penetrating light on our justice system. While not an easy novel, it is certainly compelling and unforgettable.


Reviewer: Paddy Richardson

Allen & Unwin





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