Twelve-year-old foster child Easter Quillby is the hard-knock heroine of Wiley Cash’s second novel, “This Dark Road to Mercy.” Easter and her six-year-old sister Ruby are cast adrift when their irresponsible mother OD’s, and their woes are further exacerbated when their dad Wade impulsively kidnaps them from their North Carolina children’s home. As it turns out, Wade has stolen bookoo bucks from a lowlife, who has sent Bobby Pruitt, a one-eyed bouncer with a vendetta, to kill him. Growing up’s hard when your dad’s on the lam and is dragging you along across the states, but Ruby and Easter survive, if not exactly thrive, under the care of their troubled father.
While fast-paced and compulsively readable, I did not find this book as compelling as the author’s first, “A Land More Kind Than Home.” As a character, Easter stands head and shoulders above the rest, although Ruby and Wade are pleasing leads as well. The book is narrated by three POV characters- Easter, Pruitt, the eager aspiring assassin, and Brady Weller, the girls’ court appointed guardian, who makes it his personal goal to find Wade and the kids before Pruitt does.
This slim volume has brief chapters and an exciting pace, but isn’t quite as well-written as the author’s previous work. Maybe ‘less well-written’ is the wrong phrase to use; there are no cracks in the narrative, but it makes less of an attempt to be literary as “A Land More Kind Than Home” was. Other than Easter, who was delightful, I didn’t think the characters were as compelling as those in the last book. Wade was pleasingly morally ambiguous, and I found myself trusting his intentions more as the novel progressed.
I think the biggest weakness was the portrayal and voice of Pruitt, the villain. Pruitt’s POV was decidedly meat-and-potatoes and matter-of-fact, where some creepiness and intensity may have been in order. It felt like the author, Wiley Cash, was a little scared to get deep into Pruitt’s psyche, so settles for making him a somewhat bland guy who occasionally beats old ladies with baseball bats.
“This Dark Road to Mercy” is compulsively readable, which means that even a painfully slow reader such as myself finished it in only a few days. It’s actually a really good read, my expectations were just so high after reading “A Land More Kind Than Home” that I was bound to feel a little let down by any book by this author that achieved less than greatness.
I was actually expecting things to go down a lot worse than they did it it’s conclusion. The way they wrapped it up was not bad at all, even satisfying, but I expected an adrenaline-soaked bloodbath, or at least a depressing death, at the climax. I wouldn’t say I was ‘let-down’ by the ending, just surprised that things didn’t end in literary Armageddon. If you come out with one thing from reading this book, it will be the portrayals of buoyant, happy-go-lucky Ruby and resourceful, serious Easter and the journey they take with a father who is just trying hard to be a dad.
Note- I could easily give this book 4.5/5 stars, but it would be unfair to the 4 star books I liked just as much. Therefore, four.