Source: Review Copy
Publication: 8 June 2023 from Bantam Press
My thanks to Thomas Hill and Transworld Books for an advance copy for review
Meet Mercy Lake. She likes to fix things: broken toys, old appliances. People.
She watches them in the dead of night, identifies what their lives are lacking and gives it to them . . . quietly. So quietly, they don’t even know she exists.
Then Mercy meets Louis. He believes some of these people deserve punishment, not help. Joining up with him to dispense a little harmless justice feels good – at first. But when people start getting hurt, Mercy must decide if the ends can ever justify their increasingly violent means.
And soon, their interventions draw the attention of the very person Mercy embraced her nocturnal existence to evade. Someone who will go to extreme lengths to make her pay for knowing their secret . . .
For quite a bit of The People Watcher I was getting some pretty chilling vibes as if I were reading Dean Koontz or Stephen King. The People Watcher is, ultimately, a crime novel, but it carries with it antecedents of horror tinged with a suggestion of something other worldly.
It starts with a series of good deeds. Mercy Lake, a physically damaged soul, only comes out at night. A while ago Mercy suffered a traumatic brain injury which has left her with a damaged skull, poor balance and occasional black outs.
Travelling through her neighbourhood on an electric trike, with her trusty binoculars, she waits and watches and sees so much of the pain that other people go through. Then, with stealth, she sets out to give them small, anonymous, random acts of kindness. It helps her to feel that she’s doing something good to redress the cruelty in the world.
But there’s one family she watches daily and with whom she has to take special care. Ollie is just a child but he loves his visits from the woman who comes to him dressed as a fairy and who leaves him presents with the admonition that these visits are to stay a secret between them.
We learn that Mercy has previously been charged with kidnapping this child and has only recently completed a two year probationary period. She is of course, forbidden from going anywhere near Ollie and his family.
Mercy’s life isn’t full, but as long as she can see Ollie and carry out her small kindnesses, she feels she’s doing something positive in the world. Then Louis comes into her life and suddenly everything is ratcheted up a gear.
Louis rescues Mercy for the unwanted attention of some local boys and in the process he gets to know Mercy and helps and encourages her in her endeavours. But Louis is embracing Mercy’s mission perhaps a little too wholeheartedly and as she falls under his spell, she fails to ask herself who Louis is and what he wants with a damaged young woman like her.
Sam Lloyd’s writing effortlessly draws you into Mercy’s life, enjoying her night time adventures, and making you wonder about her past. The night time comes alive as we follow Mercy in her missions. This is a book that creeps up on you and takes you completely by surprise – in the best of ways.
Mercy is such a distinctive character and Louis, who travels in his classic, handsomely furnished campervan, seems made for Mercy – until he clearly isn’t. Sam Lloyd creates a breath-taking tension that makes us hold our breath as we watch Mercy and Louis’s actions change in temperature. The gradual reveal of what happened to Mercy answers some, but not all our questions and it is not until the final, shocking denouement that we understand fully what has gone before.
Verdict: This is a really propulsive, compelling read. Mercy is a great character and Sam Lloyd’s plotting is beautifully twisty, sinister and ultimately surprising. I really enjoyed this superb storytelling and beautifully put together plot.
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Sam Lloyd grew up in Hampshire, where he learned his love of storytelling. These days he lives in Surrey with his wife, three young sons and a dog that likes to howl. His first thrillers, The Memory Wood and The Rising Tide, were published to huge critical acclaim in 2020 and 2021.