TBR Challenge Review: No Mercy by Lori Armstrong

Format: Mass market paperback
Pub Date: Dec 2010
Publisher: Pocket (Simon and Schuster)
Length: 379
FTC: picked up for free at RT 12

This month's theme is "something other than romance." And since I originally started the blog as a romance AND MYSTERY blog, I thought it was time to review a mystery. Most of my TBR pile is still in boxes from some room switching we did this spring, but I had my RT Convention books handy. And in that pile was No Mercy by Lori Armstrong.

I've read Lori Armstrong in her Lorelei James persona, but wasn't really sure what to expect of her writing as a mystery author. For starters, the styles are nothing at all alike. There are those authors whose books you would recognize regardless of who they are writing as or in whatever genre: Armstrong is not one of them. If I didn't *know* these were written by the same person, I'd never connect the two. Honestly? I prefer the James stories. And not just because they're filled with sexy cowboys and happily ever after.

The beginning of the book reads almost like a South Dakotan version of William Bartram's Travels. Paragraph after paragraph of plants, dirt, more plants, more dirt. I know it's meant to underscore the relationships between the characters and the land, but I was bored. I'm normally a fan of setting description, but this was pure info dump. I'd far rather have it interwoven throughout the text as relevant. Especially since this book is written in the first person, and we're supposed to follow along as the main character lists every plant that manages to grow on that ranch.  Russian olive, weeping willow, tallgrass, blue grama, prairie dropseed, fescue, lambsear, sagebrush...It's endless. And all shoved in before page 40.

Character development was a bit better, but there were still some problems. Specifically, the crap-ton of bad shit happening to both the main character and her sister in their childhoods. I had a really difficult time believing that a family would have so many violent accidents, especially in such a short period of time. It wasn't enough that Mercy witnessed her mother's death by a panicked thoroughbred. Her sister *also* had to accidentally kill her best friend while playing with a gun as a child. Add in a teenage pregnancy or two, a miscarriage and hysterectomy, and various other "bad stuff" all before the story even starts, and I just felt it was overdone. The "curse" of the Gundersons was too much for my suspension of disbelief.

Mercy, herself, is very unlikable. Which is fine, except for when I'm wincing at her liver-pickling alcohol intake or sheer obliviousness. My favorite parts of the story are when Mercy and Dawson, the Sheriff, interact. This is the only part of the book where I could catch glimpses of the storytelling I get from Lorelei James. Sexual tension, the importance of the physical as well as the verbal...Those few scenes are powerful in an otherwise bland story.

The whodunnit was fairly obvious, other than a small twist at the end that wasn't all that twisted. It could be I watch too many crime shows, but I just wasn't surprised at all by the guilty parties. And I like to be stumped.

Overall, this wasn't what I would consider a good "regional" mystery. It needed more finesse, a faster pace, and more twists and turns. I didn't hate it and would consider trying the next installment in the series, but it's not the quality of storytelling I know this author is capable of.

My Grade: C-

The Blurb:
The body of a teenage Indian boy found on land belonging to the Gunderson ranch is just the beginning. When a second teen is killed, the crime moves even closer to home for Mercy. The Iraq veteran is no stranger to death, but these murders are deeply personal, recalling all too clearly a childhood marred by violence and tragedy. The local sheriff seems strangely apathetic, so Mercy throws herself into an investigation that is driven by a desire for justice . . . and retribution. But as she digs up the truth behind the shocking crimes, she uncovers dark and dangerous secrets involving those she loves. Now she must race to stop a killer before everything she’s fought for is destroyed forever.

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