Noir is supposed to be "crime fiction featuring hard-boiled cynical characters and bleak sleazy settings". Neo-noir is defined as " the modern trend of incorporating aspects of film noir into films of other genres," with the note that "the term can be applied to other works of fiction that incorporate these elements".
The dustjacket proclaims Martyn Waites as "one of the major talents in neo-noir." I'd argue both the designation as a major talent and that his work is neo-noir. At page 174 of this 421 page yawner, I asked myself why I continued to read it. It is dull, cliched and becomes increasingly predictable.
Author Waites obviously believes that if he makes his characters hardboiled and cynical and sets them in sleazy surroundings, all will be well. Forgotten in this formulation is that the characters have to be interesting and, ideally, believable and the plot has to be capable of involving the reader.
Waites fails on both counts here and more.
The book opens with the torture of Tosher in a dark, dirt-streaked warehouse. Three men are torturing Tosher, one of them having a "muscle-pumped, steroid-assisted" body. He likes driving nails through limbs using his fist as a hammer. Oh my. Then Tosher is lost to us for 300 or so pages.
Everything in "The Mercy Seat" is formulaic. Each character has a tortured past that they can barely cope with. Joe Donovan, once a crack investigative reporter, is a broken man a few years after his six year old son was kidnapped and he lapsed into semi-alcoholism, his marriage and career consigned to the ash heap of history. Maria Bennett, his old editor, calls him back into harness to follow a story that she feels only Donovan can do. Jamal, a 14 year old male prostitute of mixed race, is a drug user and has a background that would make a social worker weep. One after another in an incredibly boring parade, Waites introduces us to his characters. Father Jack, a crook who claims to run a settlement house of some kind is actually a pimp and sexual molester. You could have predicted he would be described as enormously fat as well. Jeta Knight, a former police officer, now runs a private detective agency. Of course, because she is a woman and her partner an Asian homosexual male, their business is failing so they, on their own initiative, stake out Father Jack's brothel (which is, of course, protected by police and politicians) because the fame of their expose will make their security firm rich and famous. Huh?
Waites' cast of characters is lengthy, seemingly a rival to that of "War & Peace." Every one of them has enough problems to keep a Freudian therapist happy for decades. And not a one of them is actually interesting, much less believable.
All this is set in Newcastle, England . . . or at least in the sleazier parts of Newcastle. Guess that makes it noir. Lots of rain. Lots of dark shadows.
The story has Jamal stealing a mini-disc that contains a conversation between a reporter (who shows up dead) and a missing scientist. Donovan, his editor and the newspaper's lawyer try to get the mini-disc from Jamal. Father Jack has other plans. Jeta and Amar join the team. Blood and violence ensue. A corrupt cop has big plans. So does a saintly ex-convict, wrongly convicted of murder, and now compromised by the corrupt cop. And the sadist who likes to hammer nails with his fists is always running around hurting people, when he doesn't simply murder them.
Overall, there's really nothing interesting here. Not the characters. Not the plot. Sure the make-believe people who populate this novel are cynical and hard-boiled. But in a cliched way. The plot is like an all-stop commuter train: you'll know you'll get to the end of the line . . . eventually. It just seems like forever.
Martyn Waites should have shown mercy to the reader in "The Mercy Seat" by creating interesting characters and a believable plot. He didn't, so you can show mercy to yourself and not bother with this.