Along with Ryan David Jahn, Wiley Cash has quickly cemented a place in my affections as an outstanding contemporary American crime fiction writer. In the light of his exceptional debut novel, A Land More Kind Than Home, my expectations were high when embarking on this, his second, This Dark Road To Mercy.
Over the course of the last two years, there have been a plethora of novels, the majority of which American, using a young female character at the heart of the plot, but I can honestly say that Cash’s protagonist Easter Quillby has the strongest and most assured narrative voice that I have encountered to date- little wonder there are comparisons to the character of Scout in To Kill A Mockingbird. Easter and her younger sister, Ruby, find themselves placed in a care home following the death of their mother, only for their long errant father the ex-baseball playing Wade Chesterfield, to reappear in their lives, seeking to remove them from said home. However, Wade comes with more than a touch of baggage, both emotional and in the form of a large bag of loot removed from the home of a criminal. As they embark on the time honoured fictional tradition of an American road trip, Wade and his daughters finds themselves pursued by Robert Pruitt, a man with a dangerous agenda of his own as well as the girls’ court-appointed guardian Brady Weller, an ex-police officer with his own troubled past…
The absolute highlight of this book for me has to be the characterisation, and Cash’s slow, meditative exploration of the themes of family and emotional healing. From the initial distrust of Easter towards her father, Cash emotionally portrays the rebuilding of a particularly fractured relationship, and in the vignettes focussing on Wade, Easter and Ruby alone, the writing carries a particular emotional and affecting intensity. It is extremely interesting for the reader to see how the three interact, and with the introduction of their pursual by Pruitt and Weller, how the parameters of their relationship changes. In the brilliantly portrayed out-and-out bad guy Pruitt, the reader naturally feels an alignment with his hunted prey, and Weller provides an effective foil to Pruitt, with his natural integrity, despite the events of his former career in law enforcement. As Cash ratchets up the tension, the characterisation hold its strength throughout, and the tense ending, is just perfect as hunters and prey intersect in a fitting denouement. Indeed, the rendition of pace in relation to the plotting is finely honed throughout, garnering a feeling of peril within the reader as our intrepid threesome seek to evade the clutches of those who pursue them.
Such is the strength of the writing in relation to the main characters, that the ‘crime’ element of the book can be viewed as almost incidental to the plot, so I think that this book would be just as acceptable to a fiction reader in terms of its central narrative about the indelible power of family, and the relationships depicted within the novel. Wiley Cash has once again proved his writing prowess in my eyes certainly, and even at this early juncture of the new year This Dark Road To Mercy, could well be vying as one of my reads of 2014. Excellent.
This Dark Road To Mercy is published 30 January (Doubleday)
(With thanks to Transworld for the ARC)