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The Absence of Mercy: A Novel Paperback – November 19, 2013

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks; First Edition edition (November 19, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0062227378
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062227379
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (202 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #112,865 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

Author One-on-One: John Burley and William Landay

John Burley

William Landay

New York Times best-selling author William Landay's most recent books include the novels Defending Jacob and Mission Flats.

William Landay: Congratulations on the upcoming release of your debut novel, The Absence of Mercy. It’s a gripping psychological thriller, but there are some deeper themes at work here. As a writer, I know that inspiration can come from many different sources. What inspired this story?

John Burley: Thank you, Bill, and congratulations to you on the phenomenal success of Defending Jacob. The idea for my novel was born shortly after the birth of my daughter. During those first few days, I was struck with the realization that here is another human being for whom I would sacrifice everything to protect—including my own life, if necessary. The intensity of such love and dedication fascinated me, and it wasn’t long until I started thinking about how far it could be stretched, about what a parent might be capable of if they were ever pushed to the breaking point.

WL: Like you and your wife, the parents in this novel are both physicians. How did your professional background contribute to the story?

JB: It’s sound advice to write about what you know. My training as an emergency medicine physician brings what I hope is a level of realism to the medical scenes, but it also gives the reader an opportunity to experience what life is like on the other side of the stethoscope. Physicians dedicate their lives to relieving human suffering, but they seldom talk about their own suffering, about how the practice of medicine grabs hold of you and never lets go. The long hours, the time spent away from family, the patient you were unable to save despite your best efforts—it all takes a toll. In the end, we’re as human as everyone else.

WL: Your wife is a forensic psychiatrist, right? Was that helpful in developing your characters?

JB: Immensely. The story involves a serial killer who terrorizes a small town. We tend to think of such individuals as extremely rare. But many serial killers are sociopaths, and what I learned through discussion with my wife is that sociopaths are present in almost all communities. About 4% of men and 1% of women fit the diagnostic criteria. They frequently blend in to the community, and are harder to identify than one might imagine. Not all sociopaths become serial killers, of course, but for many of them the potential is there. If that doesn’t make you lock your doors at night, I don’t know what will.

WL:Have you always wanted to be a writer, or did that come later in life?

JB:I’ve wanted to be a novelist since I was about ten years old. But when it came time to choose a career path the thought occurred to me that writing novels for a living was a long shot and that I needed a day job. I decided to go to medical school, and things sort of snowballed from there. It’s a long training process—so many hurdles along the way. About eight years later I came up for air, looked around, and realized I was no closer to becoming a novelist. So I sat down at my desk during the few days each month that I wasn’t working in the emergency department, and I began to write. Three years later I finished the first draft, but getting to the point of publication involved another three years. And I thought medical school took a long time.

WL: You continue to work full-time in an emergency department. How are you able to balance the worlds of medicine, writing, and family?

JB: I prioritize as best I can and address the most imminent deadlines first. My wife is extremely supportive, and my six-year-old daughter is a persistent reminder of what’s truly important in life. Still, it’s not easy to balance so many worlds. But what can I do? I love them all.

From Booklist

Parents’ fears for their children are at the heart of this chilling debut. Small-town Wintersville, Ohio, is shaken when violence strikes its youth, first in the mutilation and murder of a 15-year-old boy, then in an attack obviously by the same perpetrator on 16-year-old Monica Dressler, who somehow survives being brutally stabbed, bitten, and maimed. Having autopsied the first victim and seen the damage done, Coroner Ben Stevenson fears for the safety of his sons Thomas, 16, and Joel, 8. As police reach a standstill, with their only suspect ruled out, Ben’s physician wife, Susan, withdraws from discussing the case and discourages Thomas’ increasingly close relationship with the still fragile and traumatized Monica. Then a perceptive young detective puts some pieces together, further tearing the town apart. Physician Burley sensitively portrays parents dealing with damage and loss in a well-constructed plot with increasing tension. An occasional passage of too-florid prose is easily forgiven in this relentlessly readable thriller that will leave readers of suspense waiting for more. --Michele Leber

Customer Reviews

This is a good story, well written and held my attention to the end.
J. Beach
A quick read (as you won't want to put it down), it is one of those books that will stay with you after you have finished it.
I felt like they did not end the story and left us "hanging".
Sandra Staton

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

32 of 36 people found the following review helpful By Patricia M Carlin on January 3, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
After reading some of the glowing reviews -- have to wonder if we were all reading the same book!

I thought that "Absence of Mercy" was just ok --- I actually liked the 2nd half of the book better than the 1st half -- more suspenseful and more of a page turner. Overall the book was lacking in depth and real character development. Didn't really feel engaged with anyone in the book.

The book could have used a better editor or proofreader -- I have to admit that I was put off in the first chapter when the Dr. mentions attending his son's baseball game in the middle of the chapter and then at the end of the chapter talks about his son's wrestling meet -- I can't believe that wasn't caught. Also, there's a reference to neon headlights --- pretty sure it's supposed to be xenon
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Format: Paperback
In the first chapter a baseball game turns into a wrestling match.
The main character is on his way to watch the wrestling match and then he's at home.
Terrible, awful editing. I no longer believe in blurbs by authors I like because clearly nobody read this book at all or SOMEBODY would have commented on the obvious errors in the first chapter.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By ggma on February 7, 2014
Format: Paperback
This is a first novel for Burley and he will need to step up his suspense and thrill in a mystery to have a fan base.

The first 100 pages are just filled with medical terms no one but the medical field would know and there are far far too many pages with just descriptions of everything and everyone and everyone has a backstory and then you have to suffer through 'dreams', once you get the gist of the story it is just predictable and you can skip and skim, the ending didn't give a very good closure for the story in my opinion.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By plane on November 19, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
A first novel and a great introduction for an author with a bright future. The story is a psychological study of murder in a small town, and the impact a serial killer has on the town and families faced with crimes not normally seen in the area they live in. Dr Ben Stevenson is the town medical examiner and lives happily with plenty of free time for his wife, two children and dog. His normal work routine involves nothing more traumatic than traffic deaths, and deaths due to natural causes. His routine is shattered when the body of a young man is found in the woods horribly mangled, beaten, bitten and abused beyond any semblance to anything normal. The police jump on the case understanding that nothing less than a fiend is loose. Before too long a young girl on the way home from a party is also attacked in a wooded area, somehow survives but with the same wounds and bite marks as the first victim. Ben is involved in attempting to help the police, and than the FBI with trying to develop a picture of the murderer from the method and results of the crimes.
The solution to the identity of the killer is presented before the ending, and the impact and why of who it is becomes a fascinating study into human normal and abnormal psychology. The fact that it appears prior to the ending is a well thought out sequence and brings Burley's novel to a level more than a little beyond a murder mystery. I look forward to more novels by John Burley in the near future and am sure that his readers will feel the same way.
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Jenny Long on January 22, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The quality of the writing was very amateurish. Lots of descriptions of people's appearances in overused phrases ("her eyes were mesmerizing'") and, at times, the book seemed to be written for young adults. Numerous scenes among teenagers that really seemed to be written by a teenager with absolutely no adult insight or edge. But the last half of the book sort of picks up for some of that slack. But not much. I'd recommend for someone who doesn't read very often or someone who enjoys James Patterson type books.
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17 of 21 people found the following review helpful By E. Bukowsky HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 19, 2013
Format: Paperback
John Burley's "The Absence of Mercy" is a remarkably assured debut novel about a Midwestern town in crisis. In Wintersville, Ohio, a psychopathic predator is slaughtering high school students. Dr. Ben Stevenson, the medical examiner, is horrified at the wounds that the perpetrator inflicts on his victims; he cannot imagine what kind of monster would kill in such a violent frenzy. Ben fears for the safety of his loved ones--his wife Susan, a family physician, and their two sons, sixteen-year-old Thomas and eight-year-old Joel. How can Ben protect them from a nameless and faceless predator who has no conscience and is lying low until the urge to murder overtakes him once again?

Burley is an emergency room physician who provides realistic details about physical and emotional trauma, forensics, and a pathologist's grisly tasks, all of which contribute to the novel's authenticity. The graphic depiction of an autopsy in progress will not appeal to the squeamish, but it does drive home the horror of what has occurred. Like Stephen King, Burley knows that thrillers set in quiet, rural areas, places where nothing much happens, where everyone knows everyone else, can be more frightening than those that take place in large cities. "The Absence of Mercy" is fast-paced and pared down to its essentials; the dialogue, descriptive writing, and exposition all flow naturally and effortlessly. In addition, the author makes good use of foreshadowing and dream sequences. He ratchets up the suspense until, at last, he punches us in the gut with the big reveal.

Told in the third person, "The Absence of Mercy" is all the more powerful because its protagonist, Dr. Stevenson, is a loving family man, dedicated professional, and a respected member of the community.
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More About the Author

John Burley grew up in Maryland near the Chesapeake Bay. He worked as a paramedic and volunteer firefighter before attending medical school in Chicago and completing an emergency medicine residency program at University of Maryland Medical Center and the R. Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore. His debut novel, THE ABSENCE OF MERCY, received the National Black Ribbon Award in recognition of an author who brings a fresh, new voice to suspense writing. His second novel, THE FORGETTING PLACE, is scheduled for release on February 10, 2015.

John continues to serve as an emergency department physician in northern California. He is hard at work on his next project.

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