This Dark Road to Mercy

Originally published February 2014

For once, a father-daughter tale.

It’s been a while since I’ve come across a story that has a father-daughter focus, but therein lies the core of Wiley Cash’s “This Dark Road to Mercy,” his followup to his debut, “A Land More Kind Than Home.” Full disclosure—while I checked out ALMKTH at least twice from the local library, I never got the chance to read it, and it’s still on my bucket list. And it appears from other reviews, those that read his first novel were expecting a little more. That said, I found “This Dark Road to Mercy” to be a dark, disturbing mystery of sorts, with a tender side—the wayward father trying to make things right even though he knows he really can’t, and the 12-year-old daughter who wishes she could really believe in her father, but knows she really can’t—so they have something in common after all.

Easter Quillby and her 6-year-old sister Ruby are wards of the state in Gastonia, N.C., after Easter finds her mother dead from an overdose in their ramshackle home. Everything she knows of her father came from her mother, who didn’t have much nice to say. What she does know is that her father legally signed away his rights to his kids—something that clearly still stings. Now on their own, living in a foster home, Easter is struggling with the everyday things that come with being 12, such as liking boys and wanting them to like you, to the tough stuff, such as your wayward father suddenly showing up at the park one day.

Wade Chesterfield is the wayward dad, once a ballplayer, never much of anything, really, whose only claim to fame is having played in the minors with Sammy Sosa. He’s a fuckup and he knows it, but he’s made a bold move and wants to take his daughters with him on a journey to who-knows-where. And the sudden presence of badass-for-hire Bobby Pruitt lights a fire underneath Wade to make a dangerous play for the girls.

The ensuing road trip-turned-chase set against the backdrop of the home run race between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, has Easter wondering if her dad is for real, and what’s in his black duffel bag; has Pruitt taking murderous steps to track them down; and the girls’ volunteer guardian Brady Weller wondering if since he can’t make things right with his past or his family, if he can actually do good this time with two girls who’ve never had a chance.

For all Wade’s faults, I love him for the way he takes down Easter’s Myrtle Beach tormentors (teens are so nasty!) and for his two last acts as a parent—seeing his daughters to safety, and, well … the last one? You need to read the book. I love it when a bad guy really does have a heart of gold.

This is a great weekend read—I finished it in a daylong binge thanks to a bout with the flu. Long enough to keep you engaged, short enough that you need not commit too much time to the couch. The Southern feel had me wishing I could have been sitting on the veranda with mint julep instead of in bed sipping on DayQuil. Maybe I need to go get that first book after all.

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