Mercy Gunderson/Book 1
From the inside cover ~
Mercy Gunderson is a straight shooter with a hard edge. On medical leave from the Army, she returns home to South Dakota, which isn’t much safer for her than Iraq. Arriving just after the death of her father, it is up to Mercy to decide what to do with the family ranch. Trying to deal with her irresponsible sister and nephew and feeling guilty that she didn’t make it home soon enough to see her father one last time; Mercy is suddenly pulled into the local community when the body of a Native American boy is found on her land. But nobody seems to be doing anything about it, especially not the local law enforcement.
When tragedy strikes again, Mercy is ready to throw all her energy into her own investigation, and she’s out for revenge. As she digs up the truth behind the shocking crimes, Mercy uncovers dark and dangerous secrets and must race to stop a killer before everything she’s fought for is destroyed forever.
If you've been around my blog lately you know how much I love Lorelei James and her Rough Riders series but did you know that she also writes mysteries under the pen-name Lori Armstrong? She writes the Julie Collins series and this year started the Mercy Gunderson series. I decided to give Mercy a try. I liked the idea of a female Army sniper and Mercy, being 38, has got some wear to her.
Let me start with saying Armstrong writes some amazingly complete characters. I never felt that any character was there simply for filler. They all had a part to play in this mystery. The story takes place in a small town in South Dakota. It's a place where everyone knows everybody's business. Mercy comes back on medical leave to help her sister with the family ranch. Her father is dead and the ranch and it's responsibility have fallen to the two sisters. There are developers wanting to buy the ranch and the sisters need to make a decision about what to do with the ranch.
The book opens with the death of a teenager. His body is found on Gunderson land which is how Mercy first becomes involved. The description of the body, and the land is both vivid and stark. "The blazing sun and dry wind burn the most resilient flesh into dried meat." Armstrong does a good job making the reader feel what the environment is like, not only the physical but the emotional environment that the people live in. It's a ranching community but there is also a population of Native Americans in the community who play a key role in the murders.
Mercy is pulled into the murder investigations and begins to find evidence of some sinister goings on in her community. She often finds herself in the company of Mason Dawson, the sheriff, who doesn't want Mercy involved in his investigation. Mercy has mixed feelings for Dawson - she's attracted to him but she's also not pleased with how his murder investigations are going. As Mercy continues to discover some pretty dark secrets she finds herself in danger and her Army training proves to be very useful. I liked that Mercy was tough and didn't back down once she gave her word. She came across as standoffish but she did care about her family and friends, she simply wasn't as demonstrative in her feelings as you might expect a woman to be.
The mystery is the central storyline and it is played out well, with the reader, along with Mercy, uncovering bits and pieces of the puzzle that lead to the final confrontation. The way it all played out made sense and kept me not only engaged but wanting revenge for Mercy and her family. I liked how Armstrong incorporated the ranch life, the military and the Native American culture into the plot and gave the reader much to think about by the end of the book. The actual mystery of the who and why of the murders had some twists and turns that kept me not only interested but entertained as well. Armstrong's writing is at times brutal - showing the harsh realities of life and death. But I liked the brutal because she also softened it with those quiet moments of contemplation and family loyalty. Overall a well written mystery with intriguing characters that left me wanting more.
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