Meet Mercie: an ordinary young woman in midtown America. Her existence is ripped apart, collateral damage when her parents are murdered, their home repossessed, and she’s left with nothing. Her bewildered rage soon lands her in the worst kind of trouble, exposed to the harsh realities of serving hard time in the 21st century American penal system. Is there any way out for Mercie, and does she have anything left to lose?
Mercie’s story headlines an unflinching collection of contemporary noir. The five standalone stories explore the bitter truths of crime, punishment and parental responsibility – sometimes with appalling consequences.
In places Chris Roy’s writing is raw and enraged, reminding me very much of the early Burke books by Andrew Vachss. Yet there are moments when he also delicately describes tenderness, loyalty and love – ephemeral glimpses which are rapidly snatched away from his protagonists as their worst fears are all too often realised.
Mercie’s story combines grim reality – a horribly authentic experience of what life is like for a female inmate – with a more optimistic, almost naïve outlook on the upside of human nature. Here the scales are balanced by good deeds for each act of evil.
Re-Pete takes OCD to extremes, going beyond the norms of noir and into the fringes of outright horror. Likewise, Libby’s Hands wouldn’t be out of place in a Halloween anthology.
Hunger drags us into a bewildering world of delirium, where mortal peril distorts a young woman’s sanity to extremes. It’s maybe my favourite story in this anthology, blending the disintegration of the self with a heart-rending loss and an intimate betrayal.
Each of these self-contained tales is utterly unpredictable. You can’t say who might be hero, heroine, villain or victim. Roy stomps on the gas and lets go the handbrake: thereafter, there’s no telling which way the plot will fishtail nor who might get mowed down in the process. Sometimes the story skitters sideways in a skewed stream of consciousness which leaves you wondering WTF just happened…
This collection is rough around the edges and can make for disquieting reading. But isn’t that the purpose of crime fiction? Not simply to reassure us that the clever detective will catch the bad man… but to expose the darker side of society, and force us to confront it.
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
Her Name Is Mercie by Chris Roy is available at Amazon