THE MERCY SEAT
Martyn Waites

 


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Simon & Schuster, March 2006
Reviewed by Sunnie Gill

Jamal is a fourteen year old boy who has resorted to selling his body on the streets of London. One night after earning money with a "punter" he spies a shiny silver CD player. He grabs it on his way out hoping to sell it later. Jamal doesn't know right away, but taking that CD player and its contents has put his life in danger and he finds himself being pursued by some very nasty people. One in particular won't hesitate to kill, in fact relishes every opportunity to do so.

In desperation Jamal rings a newspaper and asks to speak to a particular journalist. There's a catch, though. The journalist's voice is on the CD and he's missing. In need of some experienced advice, Maria, one of the deputy editors at the newspaper, calls upon Joe Donovan, a former colleague who has become a recluse since the disappearance and presumed death of his son several years earlier. Together with the help of two private detectives (one a former police officer, the other a gay Pakistani) they try to help Jamal and find out exactly what is on that CD that is costing lives.

THE MERCY SEAT could be described as British Noir. It's pretty dark and very violent without any humour to lighten the atmosphere. It has all the elements of noir: a dysfunctional hero who has cut himself off from family because of a tragedy, a corrupt detective and his psychotically violent "enforcer" named Hammer who delights in killing; and the grossly obese Father Jack who exploits vulnerable children and rules them with violence. It's into this world that Jamal is catapulted when he steals the CD player.

THE MERCY SEAT is quite clever and well written. It begins with a series of half explained events and characters which in the course of the book are gradually woven together as the story unfolds. However, there were aspects of the book I found annoying. I'm not a fan of lengthy descriptions of fight/flight scenes and these are numerous in the book. And poor Jamal must be the unluckiest kid in the UK. He flees from Hammer in London to Newcastle in the North only to run afoul of Father Jack. He then has the misfortune to be found by Hammer yet again. If that's not enough, he is under the care of the two private detectives who let him go for a walk by himself. Well, duuuh. Blind Freddy could see what was coming next. Towards the end of the book the only thing I really cared about was would the author allow Jamal to survive? The kid deserved a break somewhere along the line.

No doubt fans of noir will find much to enjoy about THE MERCY SEAT. It just so happens I'm not one of them.

October 2006


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