Thursday, April 28, 2011
No Mercy by Lori Armstrong
On medical leave from the Army, Mercy heads home to her family ranch after the recent death of her father, having been away for 20 years. It's her responsibility to decide whether to sell the ranch or not, and she gets little help from her sister and nephew. After a dead body is discovered on her land, Mercy butts heads with the sheriff, Mason Dawson.
When another body is discovered, Mercy starts her own investigation into the deaths. As she unearths buried secrets, her life--and the lives of family members--are put in jeopardy.
I have been wanting to read a Lori Armstrong book for ages, and after meeting her at RT and spending an inordinate amount of time in the bar with her (and Beth Williamson - I was in heaven with those two!), I stepped up and bought the first in the Mercy Gunderson series. First off, let me say that I discovered on page 1 that this is written in first person. A serious dealbreaker for me. I almost set it aside, but I so adore her Lorelei James books, that I decided to stick it out. I'm so glad I did!
Mercy is a tough broad. And yet, she could be extremely vulnerable if she let herself. But she doesn't. She has a lot to deal with: her father passed away and she wasn't home for it - she was off at war in the middle east. Her nephew is mixed up in an Indian gang, dead bodies of those 'gang' members are starting to appear on her land, people are trying to buy her ranch out from under her, and her sister is an emotional wreck who needs constant support. She doesn't trust the town sheriff or even her ranch foreman. In fact she tells herself she only trusts herself, but she barely even does that.
The supporting characters, from Sheriff Dawson, to her sister, to her foreman, to all the people she interacts with, all serve as different windows into Mercy's many issues. Trust, guilt, betrayal, fear. They all plague her and are shown through her interactions with the other characters.
This book is gritty and emotional - which seems an odd way to describe it since Armstrong goes out of her way to make Mercy as unemotional as possible. She tamps down her emotions viciously, trying to be as stoic as possible, even though she so hurts deep inside.
The setting here becomes its own character - almost as strong as any person in the book. The harsh land of South Dakota paints the bleak setting for this rather bleak novel. The Indian reservation (the rez) is its own harsh reality (and breaks my heart). Yet each of the settings completely matches the character and tone of the book. From all that befalls Mercy's sister, to the murders that take place, to the attitudes of the town toward Mercy (and hers toward them), to the harsh memories of her youth and the flashbacks from her army days, this is definitely not an upbeat book, and yet I kept reading, hoping for the best for these folks who live on the wild land. And Armstrong pulled me in and kept me riveted. Mostly out of sheer desperation to find something... anything... happy in this book. Alas, there is not a lot to find. But the book does end on a somewhat optimistic note.
All in all, a gritty, dirty, messy, wonderful read.
It's payday today, and so I've already downloaded Mercy Kill. Once I finish my other reviewing obligations, I'll be able to dive into this one.