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
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.
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