John Burley makes his fiction debut with The Absence of Mercy.
In the small Ohio town of Wintersville, Dr. Ben Stevenson wears two hats - that of the town doctor and when needed, that of the medical examiner.
But rarely is he called to examine violent deaths - Wintersville is a place where the neighbours all know your name - and a lot of times, your business.
Who then could be responsible for the frenzied attack on a local teenager that left him dead in a field? Suddenly, folks are locking their doors and keeping their kids close. That goes double for Ben. His older son was friends with the slain boy.
Ben becomes more involved with the investigation, especially when another attack occurs - and the victim is found barely alive.
Burley explores the reaction to such a crime through the townsfolk, most notably the teenagers in town and through Ben's eyes - both as a father and a coroner. This is a lot of the focus of the book, as there are not a lot of clues to follow. Instead, things ratchet up a notch when the killer's identity becomes known. While I was not overly surprised at this turn, it did raise some interesting questions. I was surprised at where Burley chose to take his story after that - it was a nice twist. I'm not sure if I liked the ending, but again it wasn't nice and tied up with a bow. I like that. And I liked this debut by John Burley - I would pick up his next book without hesitation.
Burley's background is in medicine. This background certainly gives the medical scenes a ring of authenticity. But, after a few lengthy descriptions it also had me skipping further explanations - they were filled with too much 'technical' jargon.
The title? "The same was true for the absence of mercy – not because mercy was something such individuals chose to withhold, but because it was a faculty they simply did not possess." Chilling.
Read an excerpt of The Absence of Mercy. You can find John Burley on Facebook and on Twitter.