MERCILESS - Lori Armstrong
A Perfect 10
Mercy Gunderson Mysteries, Book 3
Simon & Schuster's Touchstone
South Dakota - The Present
Fresh from training at Quantico, Mercy Gunderson is teamed with FBI Special Agent Shay Turnbull. He is her guide and mentor while she fits into ICSCU, Indian Country Special Crimes Unit. At thirty-nine, Mercy is over the entry limits for FBI agents, but as a retired twenty-year vet, her military experience and Indian heritage secured her the job. So far she has been stuck doing paperwork at the Rapid City office, but she is currently with the other agents sitting, bored, through a long lecture on rioting given by their boss. She hasn't seen any action yet, but that is about to change. There has been a murder on the Eagle River Reservation.
Mercy has an hour's drive to and from work to the ranch her dad left her. Her younger sister, Hope, and her husband, Jake, the ranch foreman, live in a trailer on the property. Mercy shares the ranch house and her bedroom with Sheriff Mason Dawson. She soon learns Dawson wants his son, Lex, to come live with them.
When two more murders take place, and to people Mercy knows, the finger is pointed at someone Mercy believes innocent. Both the reservation police and the FBI seem to give up on the case. Mercy continues her investigation and learns she might be searching for a serial killer, and discovers she might be the next target.
Mercy is a hard character to understand, and it took about three chapters before I warmed up to her, but after that she became captivating, almost charismatic, with her dual personality of tough lady and vulnerable woman. The presence of two heroes subtly, but aptly shows this. They are not the novel's focus, but their different styles are obvious and appeal to each of her different sides. Both are law enforcers and strong-minded men. Mercy has a feminine side shown only to a trusted few, and she loves her guns only a little less than she loves Dawson. What she keeps caged is her dark inner core, which when combined with her deadly skills, makes her capable of being as hard as stone and doing whatever it takes to survive. Her often antagonistic job relationship with Shay adds an interesting awareness, but Mercy's gut and attitude always lead her down her own path.
The mystery is intricate and unwinds with many divergent threads and suspects and ends in a satisfyingly horrific fashion. The secondary characters are rich in personality quirks, and the depiction of the South Dakota setting is vivid and an unusual location for a mystery novel. All of these add up to make MERCILESS a Perfect 10.