Sunday, March 17, 2013

“Mercy Kill” follows up edgy mystery with more of same

 by Minnie Apolis

Mercy Gunderson keeps seeing dead people. In the first installment of this western mystery series (No Mercy), she found dead bodies on the family ranch, and on the porch. In the second in the series, Mercy Kill, she finds a dead man in the parking lot of the bar where she has been working full time since leaving special forces in the military. And we aren't even a hundred pages into the book yet.

A mysterious Native American tells her “About your bad luck in finding dead bodies. Major Hawley won't be the last one. . . You died, and your spirit is still drawn to death. Especially the newly dead. It's the price you pay for your own life.”

Ooh, does that sound creepy or what? Maybe the word for it is karmic, instead.

Mercy Gunderson is a former special services specialist, mustered out after a career-ending eye injury. She returns to her family ranch in South Dakota in the previous novel, and began a difficult transition back to civilian life.

The body, the former Major Jason Hawley, nicknamed J Hawk when they had served together in the military, is now back in the area working for Titan Oil, an outfit that plans to put a pipeline through the state. The area's ranchers are not happy at the prospect of a pipeline cutting up their ranches.

Mercy is not happy really with being in a dead-end job as a bartender at Clementine's, the bar I mentioned above. She's not happy at being virtually a hobby rancher, leaving the actual running of the ranch to the foreman, Jake Red Leaf. And she's really unhappy at what she sees as nonfeasance in office by the current sheriff, Mason Dawson.

So she signs on as a last-minute replacement on the opposing ballot to run for the office of sheriff, right, against the aforementioned Sheriff Dawson.

In between electioneering stops, she sneaks in some investigation of her own into the life and death of her late Army buddy. She feels she owes J Hawk that much for saving her life when she had died in a nightclub bomb attack.

Along the way J Hawk's onetime paramour, and Mercy's good Army buddy, Anna Rodriguez stops in after attending their late comrade's funeral in North Dakota. They're just like teenaged girls, having beers, checking out the local antique shop, making investigational visits that are disguised as electioneering stops.

So you can imagine that Mercy is pretty shocked when she realizes that BFF Anna has not been merely having a bit of R & R between assignments. Can't give away any spoilers here, that isn't my game. But I guarantee a few surprises along the way to unraveling the plot.

I can tell you that Mercy does finally break down and visit a VA shrink, and she finally gets a job offer that might be more suited to her talents and temperament than bartender or sheriff. More than that, I cannot divulge. Besides, Mercy might have to shoot me, and that could hurt.

MERCY KILL, by Lori Armstrong, Simon & Schuster, New York, 2011, 293 pages not including discussion. ISBN 9781416590972.  

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