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ImageTHE ABSENCE OF MERCY by John Burley: I could subtitle this review “I was so bored.” The premise was enchanting; the execution, not so much. Dr. Ben Stevenson, pathologist, is a small-town medical examiner, a very undemanding job until the first victim of a serial killer turns up, mutilated, and the second is a friend of his oldest son’s. The killer eventually begins taunting Stevenson, who fears for his family, yadda, yadda, yadda. 

You might think it is not easy to make a serial killer book boring. I knew I was in trouble when the first pages were from the point-of-view of Unknown Psychopathic Killer. This rarely bodes well in my experience. However, I gave the book the benefit of the doubt and soldiered on. After all, a small-town medical examiner is a favorite premise of mine, and the father struggling with his fears could be a fascinating psychological portrait.

Could be.

So, here’s where the book lost me. The crazily shifting point-of-view meant I never identified with any of the characters and I wasn’t invested in the outcome to begin with. Clunky foreshadowing and anvil-on-the-head hints meant that I was just waiting for the characters to finally catch up to me (sadly, I was not mistaken when I guessed the outcome early on). When they finally did catch up, the book dragged on for some time for no apparent reason, to an ultimately unsatisfying conclusion. I didn’t even care that the ending was unsatisfying, because, thank the literature gods, the book was over! 

Source disclosure: I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.

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