If I were an organized person, a more thoughtful person, I’d have planned a post for this MLK, Jr. holiday SBD, or I would have read some AA/B romance. But I fail at all those things; I slept most of the day after being up until 4am watching the first day of the Australian Open. [Dear ESPN: why not show HotSauce winning? He’s been on a skid lately, and it would’ve been nice. But no, apparently tennis only exists on your channel when Americans are playing. Which means I was stuck watching Sam Querrey choke, hearing yet again by Mardy Fish’s weight loss, and being blinded by the atrocity that is Venus Williams’ kit. I hope the dearth of American players on Day 2 means better overall coverage. No love, jmc.] I did, however, finish a good book last week. Not romance, although the author does write erotic romance under a pseudonym.
Title: Mercy Kill
Author: Lori G. Armstrong
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: January 11, 2011
Former Black Ops Army sniper, Mercy Gunderson isn’t adjusting well to the laid-back rhythm of civilian life on her family’s ranch in South Dakota. To fill her time, Mercy accepts a temporary bartending gig at a local watering hole. Yet her attempts to settle in back home are tested when Titan Oil, a Canadian company proposing to run an underground pipeline through Eagle River County, sends Jason Hawley, Mercy’s former Army buddy to the area to convince ranchers to get behind the project.
While local business owners support the pipeline, Hawley’s presence riles the landowners and Mercy is torn. After ugly threats and multiple altercations escalate tensions in the county, Mercy discovers Hawley’s brutally mutilated body in the bar parking lot. When it appears Sheriff Dawson cares more about campaigning for re-election than investigating the case, Mercy vows to find Jason Hawley’s killer—even if she has to run against Dawson for sheriff to ensure justice is served.
But Mercy soon learns her former military pal had plenty of secrets. Her search for the truth brings unwanted exposure to the county’s dark side and risks deadly repercussions for the entire community.
This is the second book of Armstrong’s Mercy Gunderson series. Like her earlier mystery series (the Julie Collins series), this one is set in South Dakota and its protagonist is a hard-living, rough-edged woman whose life is filled with violence. In this case, the violence has been slightly more controlled, though, since Mercy was formerly an Army sniper who, because of her less-than-WASPy or Anglo looks, was able to blend in with the crowd in places where Americans were not especially welcome. Newly retired, Mercy’s having a hard time adjusting to civilian life: she alienates just about everyone she comes in contact with; she drinks too much; and she’s suffering from untreated PTSD.
The official book summary quoted above implies that the pipeline plays a significant role in the book; it may play a role in future books, but its presence here is merely as a precipitating factor — it’s the reason J-Hawk is in Eagle River County. The majority of the violence that occurs on the page is much more random, a function of too much alcohol and too much anger and frustration, a volatile mix. The blurb is accurate, though, in that much of the book is about secrets: everyone has them, and sometimes they are big enough that when they finally come to light, you wonder how well you know the people around you at all. And even if the people around you aren’t harboring secrets, do you still know them or just a facet of them?
Mercy is such an interesting character, I think. She’s incredibly flawed, hugely hypocritical, and yet conscious of this. She has daddy issues, guilt issues, and problems connecting with other human beings generally, even (especially?) people she loves. Violence is her first response to almost everything that she perceives as a threat or even feels uncertain about. She’s led an adventurous life as an army sniper/assassin, but she can’t really talk about it. That same life has made her independent and resourceful, but also unthinking and distrustful in a lot of ways. She assumes that she knows what’s best for everyone, and she jumps to conclusions, often erroneous, and goes off half-cocked.
Her decision to run for sheriff is an example of this: she decides the current sheriff (her sort-of lover) isn’t doing a good enough job or investigating Hawley’s death, so she decides to run for sheriff. Which made me ponder: what part of her sniper training qualified her to be a criminal investigator? And of course, the idea of someone who commits crimes (covering up murder and arson, among others) being responsible for enforcing the law seemed really inappropriate to me. Mercy’s saving grace in that context is that she recognizes the irony and seems to feel a vague discomfort…but not enough to keep her from running or from knowing how to investigate better than the sheriff.
All this sounds like a complaint about Mercy and the book, but it’s not. Like I wrote above, Mercy’s an intriguing character, and I’m looking forward to reading more about her.