Martyn Waites Analysis


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Martyn Waites has become a leading figure in British neo-noir since the publication of his first novel, Mary’s Prayer, in 1997. This subgenre consists of extremely dark, ultraviolent crime fiction influenced by such American writers as James Ellroy, Andrew Vachss, Elmore Leonard, and Walter Mosley; however, the British version of this subgenre is not without faint rays of hope.

Waites has staked out the city of his birth, Newcastle, as his fictional territory. Newcastle, in the northeast of the country in the enclave of Tyne and Wear County, is neither quite English nor quite Scottish and has both a contemporary face and a hidden past. Once a heavy-industrial area, it has become a modern service and call center with many new buildings, yet it retains a shadowy, seedy quayside district full of despair, desolation, and abandoned warehouses. Waites populates that milieu with a cast of colorful characters—criminal perpetrators, victims, crime fighters, and witnesses—whose qualities are neither all good nor all bad. He deals with disturbing social issues in a uniformly blunt and unflinching manner, and his depictions of horrific acts are not for the faint of heart.

Initially a writer with a cult status among cognoscenti, Waites has slowly achieved greater recognition for his work. Reviews of his novels have been overwhelmingly favorable. His Born Under Punches (2003) was listed among January Magazine’s best crime novels of the year. For his body of work, Waites was nominated for the Crime Writers’ Association’s Dagger in the Library Award. His first entry in the Joe Donovan series, The Mercy Seat (2006), was selected as the initial title released by the publisher Pegasus and was nominated for the Ian Fleming Steel Dagger Award.


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Cannon, Peter. “A Flying Start for Pegasus.” Publishers Weekly 253, no. 31 (August 7, 2006): 20. This is a brief article about the new American publisher Pegasus, which chose Waites’s The Mercy Seat for its initial release.

Douglass, Dave. “Miners Then and Now.” Review of Born Under Punches, by Martyn Waites. The Weekly Worker 487 (July 3, 2003). A mostly favorable review, which praises the author’s skill in creating an atmosphere of menace but finds fault with the inconsistency in tone, particularly in sections dealing with the past, which lack the immediacy of those dealing with the present.

Penzler, Otto. “The Mean Streets of Anytown.” The New York Sun, April 19, 2006. An overview of recent hard-boiled and noir fiction, with particular attention paid to Waites’s The Mercy Seat.

Publishers Weekly. Review of The Mercy Seat, by Martyn Waites. 253, no. 8 (February 20, 2006): 135. This is a starred review of The Mercy Seat, which is termed a “beautifully written and constructed thriller” and deemed an outstanding accomplishment, particularly for the first entry in a new series.

Stasio, Marilyn. “Crime.” Review of Candleland, by Martyn Waites. The New York Times Book Review, June 11, 2000, p. 32. In this mostly favorable review, Stasio takes the author to task for the unrelenting violence but praises the novel for its characterizations, dialogue, and the consistency of its dark tone.

Stone, Andrew. “Our Friends in the North.” Review of Born Under Punches, by Martyn Waites. Socialist Review, April 2003. A mostly positive review, crediting the work for its realism, particularly in scenes in which strikers combat the police, but faulting it for its frequent references to contemporary music and for Waites’s gratuitous use of sex as a catch-all metaphor for everything from drug addiction to exploitation.

Williams, Wilda W. “Dark Is the New Cozy: Crime in Translation, the Dominance of Noir, and Conjuring the Paranormal.” Library Journal 131, no. 6 (April 1, 2006): 36-39. A broad discussion of new entries in the noir genre from around the world, which highlights Waites’s The Mercy Seat, predicts a bright future for the author, and includes a brief question-and-answer session.