In describing Keith Rosson’s The Mercy of the Tide, the publisher wrote that he “paints outside the typical genre lines.” That is true. This is a story of family struggle with grief, a coming-of-age story, the story of a man breaking down physically and mentally, this is a mystery, and this is a horror story.
I was drawn to the story because it takes place on the Oregon coast, in the fictional town of Riptide. Rosson was successful in capturing the look and feel of Oregon’s small coastal communities. Something is happening in Riptide and it is not good. There are mutilated corpses of birds and animals appearing around the community, on the beach, even on the Sheriff’s porch. A body is found at the local park, one that links to past tragedies and local indigenous legends.
The story focuses on four people. There is Sheriff Dave Dobbs, a competent, experienced small town sheriff whose wife died recently, leaving him in deep mourning. Nick Hayslip is one of his deputies, a man who is falling apart after the woman he loved died in the same car accident that killed the Sheriff’s wife. His grief is silent and heavy because Melissa, the woman he loved, was married with two children, and no one knew they were having an affair. The other two main characters are Melissa’s children, Sam who is eighteen and Trina who is in third grade and certain that Mutually Assured Destruction is imminent.
I am very conflicted about The Mercy of the Tide. The character development is wonderful. I cared about the people in the story and not just the four who are the focus of the story. There’s Sam’s best friend Toad and his uncle whose own sorrows will wring your heart. Sam and Trina’s father struggling with his own grief while trying to raise his children alone. There’s the two women who died in that awful accident, gone but never forgotten, grief for their loss animating Dobbs, Nick, Sam, and Trina. These people are fully realized, complex, interesting people for whom we come to care deeply.
But then there is the plot, which just seems to never decide what it wants to be. It would be a more suspenseful, tighter, and far finer story if the entire element of Native American folklore were excised. First, it’s not based on real folklore and the Native American tribe and reservation are fictionalized. That’s just not right. If you are going to write about Native Americans in Oregon, don’t erase the real ones.
More importantly, the characters build the tension. There is this marvelous tension between Sheriff Dobbs and the decompensating Hayslip, there is where the story should have focused, there and on Hayslip’s obsession with his dead lover’s children.
And then, there is the Ronald Reagan issue. For some reason, the author chose to have Hinckley shoot Reagan during the election campaign against Jimmy Carter. This gives Dobbs’ wife June motive to despise Reagan for exploiting the assassination attempt. She could have easily chosen to despise him for delaying the return of the hostages in Iran in order to have them come home on his inauguration day, leaving them hostage for three more months to feed his ego. Then there is the day the bullet left in Reagan’s body shifts and it is believed he is dying or dead (no bullet was left in his body) which sets of an international incident. Why go with this false history when the real assassination left him in surgery and General Alexander Haig saying he was in charge. Real history gives reasons enough for the events he wants to happen, so why make up something that is just going to stop readers in their tracks to say, “wait, that didn’t happen.” It was beyond annoying to this history major. In fact, after the part about him exploiting his assassination to win election, I put the book down for a day in disgust before coming back to it because I really liked Sam and Trina and wanted to know what happens to them.
So, as I said, I am conflicted. The characters are wonderful, so human and real. I wish they were in another story.
The Mercy of the Tide will be released February 21, 2017. I received an advance e-galley from the publisher through NetGalley.