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Carolina Redemption: Ann Donald Reviews Wiley Cash’s Second Novel This Dark Road to Mercy

By Ann Donald for The Sunday Times

This Dark Road to MercyThis Dark Road to Mercy
Wiley Cash (Doubleday)
***

Wiley Cash’s first book, A Land More Kind than Home, made readers sit up and take note: An author to watch had arrived.

In it, Cash created an unforgettable cast of characters, writing with a restraint that did nothing to lessen the chilling anxiety that pervaded the story. Like the best scary movies, this book was nail-biting stuff.

As so often happens when expectations are raised, then, readers pouncing on Cash’s second book will be a little disappointed.

Not that This Dark Road to Mercy is bad – far from it. It also presents characters that find their way into your heart and mind. And they inhabit a story that you’ll want to read.

Easter and Ruby Quillby are sisters whose father abandons them, and whose mother dies. Cash captures these girls as deftly as he did Jess Hall in his first book: Easter’s tough shell as she assumes responsibility; the innocence of Ruby and her need for someone to keep her safe.

This story, too, is set in North Carolina – a landscape that unfolds through the sparest of descriptions, but is fully realised. The precarious existence of the two girls is founded on love, but underpinned by the weakness and neglect of unreliable adults. Easter and Ruby grow, slowly, almost imperceptibly – as does Wade, the girls’ father, into something not foreseen at the start. This is where the author’s heart is – offering the hope of redemption when none seems possible.

It’s in the broader plotting that the book unravels. When Wade reappears and absconds with his daughters, on the run from his past with a knapsack full of trouble on his back, the story falters. A baseball motif attempts to hold its strands together, but is too weak to bear the strain. Unlike in A Land More Kind than Home, the action doesn’t emerge out of the characters; it is imposed on them.

But it is a better book than many others on bookshop shelves, and is a sign of an author just limbering up. Wiley Cash remains one to watch.

- @AnnDonald3

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