Thursday, November 04, 2010

The Mercy Seat by Martyn Waites

Title: The Mercy Seat
Author: Martyn Waites
ISBN: 9781933648002
Publisher: Pegasus Books, 2006
Hardcover, 421 pages
Genre: Thriller, #1 Joe Donovan series
Rating: B-
Source: Paperback Swap

First Line: Tosher opened his eyes.

Two years ago, Joe Donovan was a respected investigative journalist in Newcastle and destined for great things. Now he's on the fast track to total obscurity, completely demoralized by the still-unsolved kidnapping of his young son. The case of a missing research scientist has people tracking Donovan down in his remote Northumberland lair, promising him access to any and all information in his son's case if he'll focus his talents on finding the scientist. Donovan takes the bait, little knowing that he'll soon meet a young rent boy who stole the wrong disc player, a couple of private investigators trying to keep their business afloat, a loathsome pedophile, and a vicious psychopath known as Hammer.

Waites has a talent for characterization, but nothing really started clicking for me until I'd read three-quarters of the book. The weight of the plot and sub-plots almost sank the ship.

Newcastle tends to get short shrift in crime fiction, so I did appreciate the book being set in that northern city. Violence, torture, pedophilia all play a part in the action, but none are so graphic that they tripped my gruesome meter. After reading The Mercy Seat, I would have to say that I'd like to see if the next book in the series streamlined the plot in order for those very interesting characters to be able to strut their stuff.

On a personal note, I realized something about myself while reading this book. I've reached a stage in my life where I simply cannot stomach characters who derive great pleasure from torturing others. (The character of Hammer led me to this revelation.) The torture doesn't make me squeamish; it makes me furious. As I was trying to give voice to this opinion of mine, the first thing that popped into my head was, "If I could, I'd wish all these characters into the cornfield!"

I then wondered where that bit about the cornfield came from. After a little digging, I found that it's from an episode of the classic television series, The Twilight Zone, called "It's a Good Life." Perhaps you'll remember it, too.

Don't worry. I won't be wishing any of you into the cornfield. Just characters like Hammer!


  1. Cathy - Thanks for this review. I'm with you. At this point in my life, I don't have much truck at all with characters who enjoy torturing others, no matter how "offstage" the violence is. A story has to be very compelling for me to stay engaged in a novel about a character like that.

  2. Margot-- Thank goodness he wasn't front and center that much. I did almost give up, and then the other characters started to shine.


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