I just finished reading Comfort Zone: A Tale of Suspense by Stephen Bentley, former undercover British detective, now crime author. The book is different than Bentley’s previous novels. Comfort Zone is a thriller and a crime story, but not as fast-paced as The Steve Regan Undercover Cop Thrillers Trilogy or Mercy: A Detective Matt Deal Thriller. Comfort Zone is more complex.
Phil Mercer is one of the most intriguing characters I’ve read about in a long time. Mercer is a British veteran who returns home from the war in Afghanistan and studies law, then becomes an attorney in London. He is also a murderer who is not completely evil even though he’s done evil things. He defends the poor and underprivileged citizens. Phil Mercer is not a one-dimensional character. The author writes about the humanity of a person who has taken the lives of other people. Like when watching a tragic play, I felt sympathy for Mercer at various times and then cringed at the murder scenes. The novel is also a mystery because the parts of the story come together in the end, similar to how the different parts of Mercer meld into one. I think he comes to accept his fragments and acknowledges them.
The title comes from the name of a parlor game at a dinner party that Mercer gives for his friends and colleagues in the legal profession. He’s invited them because he wants to show off his cooking skills and to play the game he’s invented. Every detail of the menu, the wines, the guests and the game is planned with precision.
Phil Mercer suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD) from his war experiences. His role as an attorney is stressful, but he’s able to do a good job. The author uses Mercer’s military background to explore issues that many veterans experience such as long-lasting, even permanent, mental, and physical illnesses. Many serious traumas may cause PTSD, but since Mercer is a combat veteran, his wartime experiences continue to influence his life. War always has an enemy no matter whose side you’re on, and Mercer’s nemesis haunts him when he attempts to live a normal life. The opposing roles of Phil Mercer, a murderer given in to the temptation to kill, and an attorney, driven by order, logic, and law, make for a unique protagonist. Bentley does a great service in the way he writes about Mercer’s interior dialogue, hallucinations, depression, and memory problems. He does not make Phil Mercer a stereotype of a mentally ill person. Mercer is a sympathetic character; one who is approachable for the reader. I liked Phil Mercer so much that I can visualize his character in further novels by the author.
Told through flashbacks, dream sequences, and various points of view, Comfort Zone is a first-rate story. Crime novel fans will be entertained by Comfort Zone. I highly recommend reading this book. I received this book from the author as an ARC.
The release date for Comfort Zone is August 3. Pre-order price is 99 cents/pence. Paperback is coming soon.