The Mercy Contracts - Paul Wornham

5th August 2014

Switzerland’s infamous death clinics are outlawed after a UN sanction on the country.  After huge international pressure on the country, the clinics close, therefore fully ending the world market in legal euthanasia.  In the aftermath, a number of seemingly unconnected and professional hitman-style murders are carried out in various locations around the globe, on senior citizens.

Caleb Pike is a cowboy-boot wearing private investigator based in Georgia, dealing with insurance fraud for the Association – a co-operative of insurers, brokers etc. – when he isn’t flirting outrageously with his married co-worker Martha.  He is called in by his boss to assist with insurance claim enquiries from a college professor, who wants to clarify some unusual statistics with the Association. 

Picturing a stuffy old professor in tweed, upon flying out to Michigan, Caleb is surprised to meet Jenny Miller, a beautiful black-haired/green-eyed, female professor in actuarial research; descriptions of Jenny evoke images of someone like Eva Green, who can turn heads almost anywhere with her looks.  The researcher has identified statistics which point to a significant rise in the number of murders of senior citizens, noting the professional style of the murders, the lack of motive and with Caleb’s help, identifies the fact that all victims took out an insurance policy within the last 15 months.

In short: a global criminal organisation called Omega is carrying out euthanasia for a price; the terminally-ill victim sets up an insurance policy for a significant amount and includes a charity donation (to a charity amusingly called Youth in Asia!) which ultimately goes to Omega as a fee for the kill.  The high value of the insurance pay-out to the family means the charity donation is noted as unusual, but not overly scrutinised.

John Day - one of the assassins - fails to escape the scene of one of the murders, kills an innocent witness, and is shot by the security guard as he tries to enter the getaway car.  The intermittently conscious Day lying in a hospital bed, having already botched one job already, is a liability, and Omega decides to cut their losses with him after they learn the Association is withholding the pay-out pending investigation.

Nancy, a fearsome and legendary assassin for Omega is sent to clean up the mess, which extends to Caleb and Jenny who Omega discover are investigating the case.  The race to find answers while staying alive is on!

In my opinion, all good thriller/conspiracy writers these days – and I now include Paul Wornham in this list - have identified that little and often is the most effective approach to the genre.  The Mercy Contracts is made up of lots of short chapters, bite-size enough to read on the morning coffee break, or on the daily commute, each packed with enough excitement and intriguing characters to leave you wanting to come back again and again.

Which begs the question:  will we see more of investigator Caleb Pike in the future?

Wornham is a new name to me, this being his second novel after ‘The Philanthropist’s Danse’, a book which after reading this one, was instantly on my To-Read list.  The brilliant premise in this novel is so entirely simple, it is hard not to believe that this could actually happen in the real-world.  Scary thought.

I received this book for free through the LibraryThing Member Giveaway in exchange for a review.

Rating:  5/5 stars

About the author:
Paul grew up in the city of Bath in England, a place that everyone should see once before they die.

He began his work life as a bookseller with WHSmith in the UK before they convinced him to sell music instead. He sold music and movies on both sides of the Atlantic over the next decade and a half, shifting with the times and technology from vinyl to CD and from VHS to DVD. In 2000, the emergence of Napster and file sharing convinced him the music business was over for retail, so he went back to school.

In 2002 he graduated with an MBA from the University of Alberta School of Business, joined a medical device manufacturer based in Edmonton, traveled to China and all over North America and generally had a blast.

He later moved to Ontario, where he now lives and writes in the company of a patient spouse and less patient felines. A lifelong reader, Paul's favorite books are A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving, Nobody's Fool by Richard Russo and everything by Charles Dickens.