Wednesday, December 18, 2013

"The Absence of Mercy"

John Burley worked as a paramedic and firefighter before attending medical school in Chicago and completing an emergency medicine residency at University of Maryland Medical Center and Shock Trauma in Baltimore. His debut novel, The Absence of Mercy, received the National Black Ribbon Award, which recognizes a novelist who brings a fresh voice to suspense writing.

Burley applied the Page 69 Test to The Absence of Mercy and reported the following:
On page 69 of The Absence of Mercy, the father of a murdered teenager arrives in the Coroner’s Office to identify the body. He is met there by the medical examiner, Dr. Ben Stevenson, and a detective investigating the case:
“You are welcome to come sit in my office for a moment until you feel that you’re—”

“Where’s my boy?” Tanner responded, looking over Ben’s shoulder into the next room. His voice was deep and gruff, the product of too many years spent smoking too many cigarettes.

“Well, we were hoping you could identify—”

“Let me see ’im then.”

“Yes, of course,” Ben agreed. He led the two men into the next room. He had taken as much care as possible to prepare the boy’s body—his face, anyway—for viewing. His injuries had been severe and disfiguring, and Ben was no plastic surgeon. Suddenly he wanted more time to work on the boy, especially that gaping bite wound across his left cheek. He’d been able to pull the wound edges together using a series of horizontal mattress sutures, but now it didn’t seem nearly sufficient to withstand the eyes of the boy’s father.

“The wounds were fairly extensive,” he explained to them, somewhat apologetically. “There’s been some significant disfigurement to the face.” Ben carefully folded down the edge of a cloth blanket he’d placed over the body prior to their arrival. He tried to brace himself for the father’s response.

Phil Tanner was quiet for a long moment, studying the boy’s marred but placid appearance. He looked upon him with a surreal and uncertain fascination. In the front room the phone rang, and Ben heard Tanya answering it. “Coroner’s Office,” she said, and Ben silently kicked himself for forgetting to have her put the phones on hold during the visit. The sound seemed to break Phil Tanner’s trance, and he looked up at them with confusion.

“That ain’t my boy,” he said, and Ben exchanged a surprised look with Detective Schroeder.

“That’s not your son, sir?” Schroeder asked.

The boy’s father shakes his head as if to clear it. “No,” he says, “that’s not exactly right.” It is his son, he explains, but it just doesn’t look like his son. He doesn’t want it to be his son lying here in front of him. He wants it—God forgive him—to be someone else’s child.
The shock, grief, and outrage that Phil Tanner experiences on those pages reflects the emotional response of the other inhabitants of Wintersville—a small Midwestern town whose peaceful suburban existence is shattered when a serial killer descends upon the community. It’s a place where everyone knows one another—or at least thinks that they do. But there are secrets in this town that run like contaminated rivers just beneath the surface of people’s daily lives.

What makes this story so terrifying and disturbing is that it could happen anywhere, to any of us. And as the faces of good and evil begin to blur we are compelled to ask ourselves how far we would go to protect the safety of our own family. How well do we know ourselves? What are we capable of? The answers to those questions will haunt readers of The Absence of Mercy for a long time to come.
Visit John Burley's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

Read--Coffee with a Canine: John Burley and Sterling.

--Marshal Zeringue