OK, I have said it over and over. HUGE Mariah Stewart fangirl here. The last book, Forgotten, was a meh read for me, which was horrendously disappointing. With Mercy Street, she is back on my praiseworthy list.
This is the first in a new series. Two teens are missing, suspects in the murders of their two close friends. Mallory Russo is an ex-detective brought in as a PI to help find the missing teens, and Charlie Wanamaker is the current detective assigned to the case. Mallory is hired by the local parish priest, but is bankrolled by the Robert Magellan, local gazillionaire, whose own wife and son have been missing for almost 2 years.
As Mallory and Charlie work together to find the missing kids, they discover they are very attracted to one another. Each has personal issues to deal with as well; Mallory was on the police force until she reported her partner to IA, and Charlie has weighty family issues to deal with. But they work beautifully together, and become a wonderful team.
I really liked both Mallory and Charlie. They were down to earth, bright, sharp cops, who thought outside the box and weren't in their jobs for the glory. They wanted the best outcome possible for their case. Neither wallowed in self-pity, nor did they suffer self-flaggelation for any perceived misedeeds. They just went about their business of finding the missing kids and moving on with their lives.
Their budding romance was more than Stewart has put into her books in quite some time... meaning, there was actually a romance, not just a hint of one. Sex and everything. I loved how Charlie cared for Mallory, especially after one particularly harrowing event, and was open about how he wanted to have a relationship with her. In turn, Mallory frequently asked him about his family and offered her support. It reminded me that Stewart started out writing romance with a little suspense mixed in, not the other way around. (side note: if you haven't read any of her oldies but goodies, I highly recommend it!)
The other storyline revolves around Robert Magellan and his assistant. Susanna is obviously in love with him, but he has become increasingly withdrawn since the disappearance of his wife and son, becoming cynical and distrusting. Only Susanna, Kevin (his cousin the priest), and his housekeeper are on his list of trusted close friends. It's a bit heartbreaking to read how this is playing out for both Robert and Susanna, but I hope that Stewart will give him a HEA eventually, as well as some closure.
With any other author (exceptions: Rose and Jackson) I might say the suspense was perfectly written in, but I was surprised at the lack of grizzliness and gruesomeness in this book. I'm torn, because I love that part of her books. However, while the suspense and the villain aren't as gripping as in some of her past books, it's just enough to keep the book moving at a nice clip. This was definitely more of a return to relationship building for Stewart, which was a very pleasant surprise. She writes it beautifully, and I've missed it.
Her characterization was excellent, as always. You really feel as though you know these characters by the end of the book. You care about them. Root for them. Even the missing kids. Through their families, Stewart gives us a glimpse into who they are, and we want them to be alive and well... and innocent.
Stewart ends the book with the foundation for her new series: the Mercy Street Foundation. Funded by Robert and headed by Mallory, it is an independent group of investigators who will take on cold missing person cases. Sounds interesting. The next book, Cry Mercy, is due out April 28.
Find out more about both books here.