'In Search of Mercy'

Michael Ayoob is concerned with mysteries of a more prosaic sort in his debut novel, In Search of Mercy.

Michael Ayoob is concerned with mysteries of a more prosaic sort in his debut novel, In Search of Mercy. Dexter Bolzjak is a disgraced former goalie who blew the high school championship. After being pulled from the game, he was kidnapped, abused and molested. Now it’s several years later, and Dexter is keeping a low profile working for a Strip District vegetable wholesaler.

Estranged from his parents and living in his best pal’s basement, Dexter has effectively cut himself off from the rest of the world. All of that changes one morning when someone appearing to be a bum offers Dexter a lot of money to find the woman he was once engaged to—a famous movie star by the name of Mercy Carnahan, who disappeared many years ago.

Ayoob knows the city well, and the scenes set in the Strip are the most energetic and enjoyable in the book. Yinzer idiosyncrasies and local truisms abound: “F-n’ Pittsburgh, man. It’s a small, small town. Live here long enough, and everybody knows you or your name or someone in your family.”

However, too much of what transpires in these pages is so over the top as to be unbelievable. The description of a high school hockey game makes your typical meeting between the Pens and Flyers look like a tea party.

Ayoob also tends to luxuriate over descriptions of torture and violence. Dexter’s pal makes his living by digitally altering footage to make it appear that celebrities are tortured and murdered in some stomach-churning ways. I understand that the whole point is that the violence is so repellent, but it feels as if Ayoob indulges in his own powers of description a little too much.

In Search of Mercy by Michael Ayoob; Minotaur Books; $24.99.

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