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Reviews in Brief: No Mercy by Lori Armstrong

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Mercy Gunderson is one tough woman. Raised on a cattle ranch in South Dakota, she's a 20-year Army veteran, and a rare breed — a female sniper. As the book opens, she is home on medical leave. Her father, who was sheriff of their small town, recently died and left the decision of what to do with the ranch solely to Mercy rather than include her emotionally fragile sister Hope.

Mercy is the strong one, but she is also troubled. She struggles with the effects of her Army service, at times becoming extremely angry and drinking too much, just as any male veteran of the Iraq War might. She is very much a woman, however, with a woman's desires and plenty of room for nurture, given the chance.

When a friend of Hope's son turns up dead on the ranch, Mercy is naturally concerned. When more people die, she doesn't wait for local law enforcement — the interim sheriff, who happens to be one sexy cowboy — to figure out what's happening. She has her ways; her nickname isn't "No Mercy" for nothing.

Atmospheric as well as action-filled, the book portrays the landscape and the culture of South Dakota as vividly as any character. The ranch, the local Indian reservation, the issues and tensions of a dying way of life, as well as Mercy's own mixed heritage (she's one-quarter Native American), all play into a plot that hums along and had me itching to get back to it every time I put it down.

Author Lori Armstrong is an excellent mystery writer (she has won several awards for her work already). As I read No Mercy, I knew things were not as they appeared, but I did not figure out the whole story, and I'm not convinced she's told the whole story, either. There are plenty of strings for Ms. Armstrong to pick up with Ms. Gunderson, who is a timely, and perhaps unique, female protagonist. Armstrong recently concluded her Julie Collins series and no doubt has more plans for Mercy, which is good news for mystery fans.

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About Nancy Fontaine

Nancy Fontaine is a librarian and freelance writer living in New Hampshire with her husband, two cats, and every four years during presidential primary season, the national press.