The Quality of Mercy is a vivid historical novel written by Booker Prize-winner Barry Unsworth. Set in the 18th century in London and in the mining village of Thrope, the novel centers around the intersecting lives and divergent fates of the Irish fiddler Sullivan and the ambitious young banker Erasmus Kemp.
It’s the spring of 1767 and the vengeful Erasmus Kemp has the mutinous sailors of his father’s ship brought back to London to stand trial on piracy charges. The trial of the crew—as well as the case of Jeremy Evans, a runaway slave from the Gold Coast living as a free man in England—has attracted widespread scrutiny and the particular attention of a passionate abolitionist, Frederick Ashton. To further complicate matters, his sister Jane—an ardent reformer herself—has fallen in love with their ideological adversary, Erasmus Kemp.
When—much to Kemp’s dismay—Sullivan escapes, retrieving him proves too much in the midst of overseeing the dramatic legal case and a new business venture in the northern coal and steel industries of Thorpe. But the two men’s paths are about to collide once again, for Sullivan is also on his way to Thorpe to fulfill the dying wish of his shipmate.