The Mercy of the Tide, Keith Rosson: Book Review

mercy of the tide keith rosson book reviewMeerkat Press
The Mercy of the Tide Book Cover The Mercy of the Tide
Keith Rosson
Meerkat Press

Riptide, Oregon, 1983. A sleepy coastal town, where crime usually consists of underage drinking down at a Wolf Point bonfire. But then strange things start happening—a human skeleton is unearthed in a local park and mutilated animals begin appearing, seemingly sacrificed, on the town’s beaches.

The Mercy of the Tide follows four people drawn irrevocably together by a recent tragedy as they do their best to reclaim their lives—leading them all to a discovery that will change them and their town forever. At the heart of the story are Sam Finster, a senior in high school mourning the death of his mother, and his sister Trina, a nine-year-old deaf girl who denies her grief by dreaming of a nuclear apocalypse as Cold War tensions rise. Meanwhile, Sheriff Dave Dobbs and officer Nick Hayslip must try to put their own sorrows aside to figure out who, or what, is wreaking havoc on their once-idyllic town.

Keith Rosson paints outside the typical genre lines with his brilliant debut novel. It is a gorgeously written book that merges the sly wonder of magical realism and alternate history with the depth and characterization of literary fiction.

Special thanks to Meerkat Press for allowing us to review Keith Rosson’s The Mercy of the Tide.

This review contains quotes from the book

Keith Rosson writes a well thought out novel about a series of mysterious incidents that occur in a small coastal town. However, this town as well as the people who inhabit it, have no idea what is about to happen next.

From the start, we learn there have been animals washing up on a beach, torn or ripped apart: a bird, a seal and so on. These events turn the town closer towards insanity because no one can explain just what is going on. Of course, in a true way of suspense, Rosson doesn’t give everything away, but instead, he rolls out little clues that don’t spare much of an explanation behind the peculiar phenomena. If anything, I think Rosson’s teasing these details is what makes the novel so interesting, and I personally admire authors who are able to have me hooked just by the first couple pages, as The Mercy of the Tide does so well.

The novel is set in 1983 in a place called Riptide, Oregon, and we realize later on that there is significance in this particular time period. Throughout the novel, Rosson makes references to this year because the United States and the Soviet Union were in the middle of the Cold War. Trina Finster, one of the narrators of the story, becomes obsessed with the happenings of the Cold War as well. We also learn that, by recollecting this time, it also helps her cope with her mother’s passing. Albeit Trina’s somewhat hyper-awareness of this memory and her rememberings of the war eventually onset her paranoia of another nuclear war.

Eventually, we learn the sudden appearances of animal carcasses washing up ashore were due in part to som unknown predator that has supposedly been around since 1868. With each animal being eaten in half, it was believed the animal to blame might have been a huge beast of some kind. In knowing this, we see how each out our four narrators respond to the fatalities. Sam Finster, Nick Hayslip, Dave Dobbs and Trina Finster all describe their own accounts of the mysterious happenings in their beach town. I personally liked this approach because it allowed me to sympathize with each character before the book gets into the nitty-gritty stuff.

Sam is a teenager trying to raise his sister because his dad is always working and his mom died in a car accident; Nick is the troublemaker of the group, he has a drinking problem and we realize he was involved with Sam and Trina’s mother before she passed; Dave considers himself the man in charge because he is the police chief who doesn’t take crap from anyone; Trina is a deaf nine-year-old girl who is still lamenting mother’s sudden death. Rosson does a really good job distinguishing the different perspectives of his characters because it allowed me to learn more about them individually.My favorite character was Sam Finster because I was able to connect with him more. All I wanted to do was take care of his sister, and that is all I want to do with my sister. I know what it is like to look out for a sibling, and Sam does this so well. I feel like we could have been friends if he was real.

My favorite character was Sam because I was able to resonate with him most and his will to look after his sister. I was really endearing to see, as it is something I would do for my sister as well. On a personal level, I know the struggles associated with caring for a younger sibling, and Sam does this so well in the story. I felt like we could have been friends if he was someone I met in real life. I think the fact that Rosson made his characters so relatable made them all the more enjoyable to read.

With that being said, however, there were some things I didn’t enjoy about the book. For instance, the sentences were really long; Rosson would often write out more details and information into one sentence than I felt was necessary. It made it really difficult to focus sometimes but I felt like had I not read everything in its entirety I would have missed out on some important plot points. I felt as though there were even some run-on sentences which made it confusing for me to follow since I had to really pay attention to every little detail in his sentences.

An example of this is found in the first chapter of the book when reading Dave Dobbs’ perspective:

Dobbs had been seated in his chair for a grand total of seven minutes or so- just enough time to look over the upcoming day’s patrol roster and the previous evening’s meager arrests, enough for a few sips of sad, scorched Yuban in a Styrofoam cup, for the slivered ache in his heart to be quelled slightly with the familiarity of the morning’s routine- when one of his deputies, Nick Hayslip, rapped his knuckles on the open door.

—excerpt from Keith Rosson’s The Mercy of the Tide

However, one of the unique things I did find with Rosson’s writing is his way of describing central themes at the beginning of each chapter for each narrator’s introduction. We learn about each of their experiences, what they go through and what they’re all about, which is refreshing. Even though I am not privy to detective speak, I really enjoyed Rosson’s use of phrases like “Smoking cigarettes at the turnaround” and “Hayslip freezes,” which means that he froze while watching his police partner almost get killed by a maniac. Remains simply meaning whatever is left of something, like those that were discovered at Tumquala Park.

“A paper bag with sand in the bottom – Hayslip freezes – Smoking cigarettes at the turnaround -You got to knuckle up – Trina sees the news – Signing – What does it say about you when you can’t remember her name? – Hayslip gets reprimanded – Remains”

—excerpt from Keith Rosson’s The Mercy of the Tide

All in all, I recommend this novel to anyone who is looking for a unique mystery. Even though it may turn out to be a bit tricky getting around the lengthy sentences, I wouldn’t let that discourage you from reading this novel. It’s decent and deserves to be read.

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Jessica Duffield
the authorJessica Duffield
Contributing Writer
I am a junior in college. Books are my passion and I hope to work in book publishing once I graduate from journalism school.