One thing I love about the mystery community is the opportunity to push my boundaries. The moment I fall into the trap of thinking "I know what I like" and sticking to it, I'm exposed to something that makes me rethink it all. These three books are an example of that. For various reasons (that I'll explain below), they aren't the type of thing that I normally pick up. But, boy, am I glad I did. The first is from an award-winning author I've just discovered, and the other two are from up-and-coming authors that I'm sure the world soon will.
MERCILESS by Lori Armstrong
I tend to shy away from overly damaged heroines. Yes, bad things happen to people. Often these things color life as a whole. Where you lose me is when the damage is used by the author to give the character depth, but when this is the sole motivation (with no growth) all it really does is make the protagonist one note. And I get bored.
The heroine of MERCILESS (and NO MERCY and MERCY KILL) is Mercy Gunderson. Bad things have happened to her. A lot of bad things. But, unlike the heroines I've described in the previous paragraph, she's pretty much just plain awesome. As a former black-ops sniper and current FBI agent, she kicks ass and takes no prisoners. She also supports her friends and family, and although having a committed relationship scares her (especially since it's with the local sheriff, with whom she can't share case information) she realizes she's happy, maybe for the first time, and rather than engage in the typical self-sabotaging behavior so many heroines do, tries to grow and change.
In MERCILESS, she's just started out with the FBI and it seems she'll be stuck behind a desk doing paperwork. Instead, a possible serial killer on the Eagle River Reservation throws her directly into the action due to her ties with the tribal police and tribal council. Unfortunately, these relationships are as much help as hindrance because Mercy, not having much Lakota blood, feels like an outsider to the tribe as much as to the FBI. Her home life is shaken too when the eleven-year-old son of her boyfriend, Sheriff Mason Dawson, is sent to live with them.
Readers who haven't read the prior books in the series can read this first without being too behind, but I would recommend reading the series in order. (There's also an eStory, SILENT MERCY which comes directly before MERCILESS in the timeline.)
LOST IN CLOVER by Travis Richardson
I really don't read novellas. To be totally truthful about the matter, I can't remember the last time I've read one. Wait, I do, it was SHOPGIRL by Steve Martin. So we're talking well over a decade here (and no, I'm not trying to imply that experience turned me off of them completely). I just want more. If I like a story or the characters, I like to get as much out of them as I can, and stay in their world as long as possible. So, for that, and that alone, I don't often read novellas.
An exception to my utterly ridiculous premise is Travis Richardson's LOST IN CLOVER. It began life as a short story. But, like me, the publisher he submitted to wanted more, and thus a perfectly executed novella was born.
I can't give too much away here, but the story revolves around teenager Jeremy Rogers who lives in Clover, a small town in rural Kansas. He's got good grades, a summer job and a bright future ahead of him. But one night he goes to a party with a group of cool kids and his life changes forever. The small town becomes the nation's focus, and Jeremy is torn between guilt and a need to keep his secret.
The pacing of the story and the amount of emotional hills and valleys that Richardson explores in a short time is masterful. Making this story a novella was absolutely the right choice, and I look forward to reading more!
DEAD MAN'S HAND by Luke Murphy
I generally don't review books that aren't available through your local independent bookstore. Not simply because I like to encourage readers to shop and support local, but because I don't have the time to read everything I receive. However, something about this one made me make an exception to the policy.
DEAD MAN'S HAND is Luke Murphy's debut novel. Murphy, a native of Ottawa, played minor league hockey for six years. He started writing when he was benched for an injury, and went on to write a sports column for The Equity. Being no stranger to violent injuries, it's not really a surprise that he created a protagonist (Calvin Watters) who was headed for football stardom, but one bad decision and an injury derailed his plans, leading him to become a loan shark's muscle in Vegas.
Although the story does begin with the standard "taking one last job before getting out of the game" the world and characters Murphy creates make it anything but ordinary. These are all people who, one way or another, represent the Vegas underbelly, but he makes them relatable and even likable. Although there are a couple of places where the exposition could be trimmed, and some characters that could be developed in a bit more detail, it's remarkably clean for a debut. This is an author I'm eager to watch grow and mature in his subsequent books.
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