The Mercy of the Tide

The Mercy of the Tide

by Keith Rosson


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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 Deputy 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.

- NPR Books | Jason Heller - "Rosson is a talent to be watched, and Riptide is one of the most immersive fictional settings in recent memory."

- Publisher's Weekly (starred review) - "A striking novel"

- Foreword Reviews (4/4 hearts) - "An exquisitely honed, beautifully written novel."

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780996626248
Publisher: Meerkat Press, LLC
Publication date: 02/21/2017
Pages: 296
Sales rank: 1,220,841
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Keith Rosson lives in Portland, Oregon, and is the author of the novels The Mercy of the Tide and Smoke City. His short fiction has appeared in Cream City Review, PANK, December, the Nervous Breakdown, and more. A fierce advocate of public libraries and non-ironic adulation of the cassette tape, he can be found at

Read an Excerpt

The Mercy of the Tide

A Novel

By Keith Rosson

Meerkat Press, LLC

Copyright © 2017 Keith Rosson
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-9966262-4-8


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


If there was a catalyst to it all, it was most likely when Joe Lyley, the sallow, evangelical man who ran the town's bed and breakfast, was led into Dobbs's office one rain-lashed Monday morning carrying a paper sack that rattled with sand.

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. It was just past eight in the morning and rain flew in ugly little spats against the windows; in the station room beyond his office, Dobbs could hear the morning shift slowly coming to life — the ringing phones, the sudden and brittle screech of the fax machine, the hushed tones of the station's dispatcher.

Hayslip leaned his head in, his hat in his hand, and said quietly, "Got a Joe Lyley hoping to have a word, Dave."

Dobbs, his mouth to his coffee cup, motioned him in. Hayslip, frowning and clean-shaven and in keeping with his recent shift to a tight-assed, deadly seriousness, nodded and wordlessly motioned for someone out in the hall to step inside. Which was when Joe Lyley walked into Dobbs's office, carrying about him a familiar air — it wasn't entitlement, exactly, the way many of Riptide's citizens walked in, but it was close to it. Call it a sense of barely quelled righteousness, then. A strident little show tune, Dobbs thought, that should be called "I Am the Taxpayer and You Work for Me." Lyley himself was pale and thin, with a little caterpillar of a mustache and owlish glasses that sat huge on his face. He wore his chinos practically hiked to his tits and was holding a wrinkled paper sack to his chest; while they'd never traded words, Dobbs recognized him immediately as a face at town hall meetings. Now as then the man emanated a kind of uneasy, scattershot psychic effluvia that was immediately recognizable: Religious nut, Dobbs thought. With some people it was easy to call: it just sang out, like a tuning fork set to thrumming. The kind of man that made people nervous. The paper bag was rolled tight at the top, like a little kid's lunch.

"Sheriff," Hayslip said, still worrying the brim of his hat, "I believe Mr. Lyley here wanted to talk to you about some happenings down at the beach."

"That right?"

"Yes, sir," Hayslip said.

Dobbs rose and leaned over his desk, held out his hand. Joe Lyley, with obvious reluctance, shook it. The man's grip was limp and tepid. Dobbs heard the rattle of sand in the bag and an inkling arose that whatever was in there, no good was going to come from it. He had been a cop for a long time, and had long understood that some men carried calamity on them like cologne.

Dobbs said, "Mr. Lyley, you don't mind if my deputy sits in on our conversation, do you?" "No, I do not," Lyley said. He sat in the single chair facing Dobbs's desk and crossed his legs, showing a pale stretch of calf between sock and cuff. "A whole lot of trouble might be saved, actually," he said, "if more of your officers were paying attention to the town's goings-on. Or any attention at all, really." Hayslip took station in front of Dobbs's bookshelf, a dented metal affair full of battered binders and incident logs, cardboard boxes of old paperwork. The rain spat sudden and hard against the window and Lyley flinched and uncrossed his legs, pressing his knees together, the bag in his lap.

Dobbs leaned back in his chair and nodded. "Okay. Well, let's see if we can't change your mind about that, Mr. Lyley. What is it we can do for you?" "Well, for starters, there's the matter of the beach down there at the turnaround," he said.

"Down at Wolf Point?"

"Indeed," Lyley said. The word was drawn out, rich with contempt.

Dobbs felt the first stirrings of anger, distant. Wished yet again he could call his wife after they were done here, pushed the thought away.

"Alright then," he said. "What about the turnaround?"

Lyley cleared his throat. "Well, beyond anything else I might have to say, there are vandals running around down there. Were you aware? Teenagers. Most likely fornicating, and I'm positive alcohol is involved. Narcotics, too, I assume, why not? Lord only knows what else goes on down there."

"That is unfortunate," Dobbs agreed. Hayslip stood by the bookshelf, his hands behind his back as he frowned down at his boots. "Though we regularly send patrols down onto the beach at the Wolf Point turnaround, Mr. Lyley."

"Fornication!" Lyley said as if Dobbs hadn't spoken. "I see bonfires down there at all hours. All hours. You go down there and it's like a — like a hobo encampment. Empty alcohol containers. Trash everywhere." He suddenly lurched forward, eyes dark and gleeful behind his lenses. "Multiple rubbers of the used variety, Sheriff."

Hayslip at the bookshelf coughed, turned his head and squinted toward the window.

"I'm starting to connect the dots here," Dobbs said, pointing at the man and smiling. "Mr. Lyley, you're the owner of the Surf and Sand, right there on Hastings Street, isn't that right? The nice little bed and breakfast there?"

Lyley's shoulders rose. "It's the Silver Sands, Sheriff. But yes, that's correct. My wife and I."

"My sisters-in-law spent a weekend there when they visited here this summer and they just loved your place. Said it was just gorgeous." Lyley stared back at him, unsatisfied. "Well," Dobbs said, resigned to the fact that there were some folks who just came to his office prepared to remain unhappy. He fell somewhat deeper into the familiar patois when he said, "We do take citizen concerns very seriously, especially when they're small business owners, like yourself, who contribute so much to the community. Our officers patrol all the beach access points here in town. Every one of them. That's just part of their routes. Especially at night, I can assure you. Officer Hayslip can attest to that."

Hayslip was on point. He dutifully raised his head. "Yes, sir," he said. "That's very true. Absolutely."

Lyley's smile was acerbic, wry, a man used to people trying to pull the wool over his eyes. Some shift took place inside him, the man's fussy little frown replaced with a smile that showcased a mouthful of truly unfortunate orthodontia. "I know you say that, Sheriff, but it's quite clear that no one's doing much of anything down there. As far as the turnaround goes, or Slokum Beach, or anywhere that I can see. Indecency abounds. Half-dressed children running wild. It's winter, Sheriff, good lord. It flies in the face of decency." As if to punctuate his point, Lyley rattled his paper sack again. Hayslip and Dobbs shared a glance, there and gone.

"I really am sorry you feel that way, Mr. Lyley. And I can assure you this isn't just lip service. Do you mind if I ask, what specifically is your issue of concern? If it's just our general lack of patrols on the beaches, I will definitely address that with all my officers."

Lyley tilted his head; Dobbs was reminded of a dog, curious. The overhead light caught one of the lenses of the man's glasses, turning it a gleaming white. "I've never been a huge fan of sarcasm, Sheriff Dobbs."

Hayslip coughed again, fist to his mouth.

"I'm not being sarcastic, sir," Dobbs said. He leaned forward, put his red-knuckled hands on his desk, suddenly tired of the day. Just like that. Already weary with it. Any humor or interest he may have taken from Lyley's strangeness was gone. He had no more use for anecdotes, which is what this interaction with Lyley, at best, would become. Some story that would get passed around the station during the day's breaks. He wanted to spin his chair around, look at the gray wash of the rain in the parking lot, the cruisers slotted neatly in their spots, the sky the color of iron shavings. Get this nutjob and his unerringly solemn deputy out of his office. Simmer in the luxury of his own grief. Didn't he at least deserve that, goddamn it? When he spoke again, his voice was edged in flint. "I'll ask you once more, Mr. Lyley. Is there something specifically you would like to talk about?"

Lyley clucked his tongue and began to primly unroll the paper sack in his lap. A dry, serpentine hiss of paper, one of his hands cradling the sack's bottom. "These are unlovely times," Lyley said, and he spoke with the air of a showman now. "Fornication abounds. Selfishness, greed. Lust. Holy institutions are mocked. We face a dismantling, Sheriff."

Ah, here we go, Dobbs thought. He sighed. We have arrived.

"Heretics abound. Our leaders moored in godlessness. Countless perversions on television." The speech seemed prepared. Lyley leaned forward and tilted the open mouth of the sack toward Dobbs.

Dobbs, almost relieved that the depth of the man's instability had presented itself this quickly, rose and leaned over his desk and peered into the bag. Hayslip even elbowed himself from the bookshelf and, arms crossed, leaned over to take a look, as well.

The contents were at first unidentifiable. Something white and gray, a whiff of salt and then, like an afterthought, the sharp tang of decay. Like a Rorschach, the image fell into place and he couldn't unsee it: the downy wing, the rich butter-yellow of a beak. Lyley rattled the bag — again the rasp of sand — and more was revealed: the seagull was in pieces, Dobbs saw, a desiccated body, the two pieces halved and stacked on top of each other. The feet ridged, almost insectile. Lyley stared at him openmouthed now, the merry light of madness brazen in his eyes. A man given over to it entirely.

Hayslip saw the bag's contents and let out a cry, almost sounding disappointed, like a man losing a bet. He recoiled and Lyley's lips suddenly split in a grin as he looked back and forth between them.

"Proof. Proof that a divine judgment walks the earth. It won't be long now." His voice loud in the room, almost musical, bright and reverberating. Gleeful. He was unhinged, absolutely, and his voice seemed ageless and mad. His face behind those glasses wore the grim righteous joy of the soothsayer.

Dobbs took one step around his desk, awake now, fury singing up his arms and ratcheting up his spine like electricity. It happened like this since June's death: his heart's velocity leaned only toward anger. How he spent entire days almost asleep, ensconced in a quiet despair, and then leapt toward anger like a drowning child at a life raft. He caught himself as he stepped toward Lyley, physically caught himself, hooked his hand around the edge of his desk to slow himself. A man swept up in a current. His own voice throbbed in his ears. "Do you have a mental condition, sir? Do you need medication?" "Judgment," Lyley crowed, rattling the bag above his head with the flair of a conquistador, his wrists knobby and huge above the cuffs of his shirt.

Hayslip pulled his handcuffs from his belt, held them in a fist, looked at Dobbs over Lyley's shoulder.

"Proof!" Lyley cried. His teeth were small, yellow, tilted things beneath his mustache. "The wages of our sins. A divine retribution."

"For Christ's sake," Hayslip muttered.

Lyley lowered the sack. Almost conversationally, he said, "This isn't the first animal I've found on the beach, Sheriff. The first bird." And then he screamed, the cords in his neck suddenly leaping like wires, "'Therefore shall the land mourn, and everyone that dwelleth therein shall languish! With the beasts of the field and with the fowls of heaven!'"

Dobbs could see heads craned outside his office door. For a moment, everything — his office, the station floor, even the great sad cave of his own head — was silent. And then Lyley whispered hoarsely: "What happens when it's no longer birds, Sheriff? Beyond the beasts of the field? What then? What price then?"

Lyley upended the bag with a flourish, and the halved pieces of gull tumbled out onto his desk in a wash of grit and sand, its eyes black and dried and wrinkled as olives, culled of moisture and sentience both, the few tendrils of organs in the body hanging loose, tough as strings. The scent of rot heavier now, exposed. Hayslip grabbed Lyley by one freckled arm and spun him against the bookshelf. The paper sack tumbled to the floor. There was the ratchet of cuffs; Hayslip hiked Lyley's arms up toward his shoulder blades and the man cried out. Outside Dobbs's office, his staff members were all standing at their desks, openmouthed and still as paintings.

"Harassment of an officer," Hayslip growled into Lyley's ear. He knuckled something from his eye, put his hand back on Lyley's neck. "At the very least. That's county time right there. Sound good to you, Mr. Lyley, a harassment charge? You've got to be out of your fucking mind, you know that?"

In seconds the day had turned into a caricature. A cartoon. A thread of a headache knotted itself inside Dobbs's skull. "Just get him out of here. Walk him out. And you are on my list, Mr. Lyley."

Lyley's laugh was high and reedy. He seemed to be enjoying himself. "We're all on His list, Sheriff. Yes? You agree? That the Great Redeemer puts his mark upon all of us?"

"Enough with the horseshit," Hayslip said.

"You're not to set foot in this station for ninety days, Mr. Lyley. Is that understood?"

Lyley's glasses fell to the ground and Hayslip, cursing, stooped to pick them up. He put them folded in the man's shirt pocket. "Ninety days?" Lyley said, craning his neck to lay a fierce eye on Dobbs. That fey, yellow-toothed grin. "The world's great cessation may well have come and gone by then, Sheriff."

"Well," Dobbs said, looking sourly at the shipwreck of his desk, "in case it doesn't, I don't want to see or hear word one from you."

Hayslip frogmarched Lyley out of the office and Dobbs could still hear the man's proclamations as they made their way out of the station, a radio signal fading out. Dobbs grimaced and pushed the pieces of the torn gull into his wastebasket with the end of his pen and then, after a moment, threw the pen in the basket as well. He cinched the garbage bag shut and stepped out onto the main floor, all eyes on him, and headed out to the garbage bins at the back of the station. Some fool's dog gets too exuberant with the corpse of a bird and zealots like Lyley see an apocalypse in it: a story June would've tsk-tsked over. Hell, their own dog would've done the same thing when she was a pup. He'd need to sanitize the everliving shit out of his desk.


They walked down the hall, Lyley's wrists fragile, breakable things in their bracelets. It crossed his mind, that fragility.

Hayslip's work schedule: four days on, three days off. Twelve-hour shifts.

With work came focus, came intention, a distraction. The days off were the ones to struggle through.

Work was the only thing saving him. Everything else was stunted and slow-moving and moored in an unspeakable guilt that skirted darkly at the edges of his life. But at work, even with the weight of the belt on his hips growing heavier as the day progressed (pistol, baton, flashlight, cuffs, radio), there was a lightness to it all. He could lose himself in it. His life before the accident (those carefree days, practically gilded in shimmering light and soft-focus camera work when he thought about it now) had seemed something malleable. Not an endurance test, but something to actually be enjoyed. Something he had some modicum of control over. Now? Now a day had become something to be trod through, each hour a solid object to rally against, to exert his will against. But he was grateful for it: memory was the enemy, not movement. He would start his shift and feel the demands of all that goddamned free time roll off his shoulders like stones.

As they walked out of the station he hiked the cuff chain up toward Lyley's shoulder blades every couple steps, not minding at all the way the man hissed in pain. Their footsteps echoed on the marble floor. They stepped out the glass doors together into a warm morning rain and Hayslip unlocked Lyley's cuffs only once they were on the sidewalk. They looked at each other then, rainwater darkening their shoulders in seconds. Lyley rubbed his wrists and then took great care in putting his eyeglasses back on. A passing car slowed to watch them, throwing up a sluicing fantail of water in its passage.

"Ninety days, Mr. Lyley," Hayslip said. He put his cuffs back on his belt and nodded, standing with his arms folded before the glassed doors. "I'll go ahead and tell you, you're very lucky the Sheriff didn't decide to arrest you."


Excerpted from The Mercy of the Tide by Keith Rosson. Copyright © 2017 Keith Rosson. Excerpted by permission of Meerkat Press, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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The Mercy of the Tide 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
smg5775 More than 1 year ago
This is not a book I would have picked up had I not been participating in the Traveling Book Journey. I cannot describe exactly what genre it is. However, the prose is beautiful. Mr. Rosson has a way with words and can paint a picture with them so you know exactly what he means and sees. His character development is wonderful. Four characters are followed through the book and you get to know them through their thoughts and contact with others as well as one another. The story cannot be described. It is more a series of vignettes of the four main characters--Sam, a 16-year old boy, Trina, his 9-year old deaf sister, Sheriff Dobbs, and his deputy Nick Hayslip. The story reveals itself in the last 40 pages and is exciting but tragic. I have to admit I do want to know what happens to them and how each adjusts in the end.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Did not like the ending
HLKreader More than 1 year ago
I had a hard time figuring out how to rate The Mercy of the Tide. The concept is really interesting, and Rosson is clearly an excellent writer. But for me, this book just seemed to drag. I expected a suspenseful mystery, with maybe some paranormal/horror elements thrown in. And while there are definitely mystery and paranormal/horror aspects, they aren't actually very present in the story for most of the book.
jayfwms More than 1 year ago
This is a fascinating book that uses the impact of a tragedy to tell a story through the individual characters affected by the tragedy. Much of the writing is in a lyric style that flows details of the environment through the reader's mind. The scenes of the small town of Riptide create indelible images as it appears that an ancient Indian myth is coming to life along the beaches outside of the town. Each of the main characters gets a chance to tell their part in the story, and they are each developed in depth and very human. You will appreciate this story the first time you read it, and you will want to read it again.