Pros: Great main characters; fantastic pacing; tight mystery
Cons: A few minor PoV issues and some shallow bad guys
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Mallory Russo used to be a detective—until she refused to cover for her partner’s outrageous behavior shortly before he was due to retire. The rumor mill twisted the details until the story became that she had lied to ruin her partner’s career, the better to further her own. Before long she had to quit the department for her own safety. She was one of the department’s best detectives, however, so when a priest asks the chief to recommend an independent investigator, her name is at the top of his list.
Father Kevin Burch takes the needs of his parishioners very seriously. When four children from his parish are involved in a shooting, he can’t help but get involved. Two teens were shot in a park, and another boy and girl are missing—the police naturally assume they were involved with the killing. Father Burch is sure they weren’t, and doesn’t want the force’s preoccupation with a sniper to keep the children from being brought home safe. So he enlists his wealthy cousin, Robert Magellan, to pay for Mallory Russo’s services.
Mallory hooks up with the chief’s newest detective, Charlie Wanamaker, to find the killer—and the kids. But Mallory’s problems with the department keep getting in the way, as do Charlie’s problems with his alcoholic mother and autistic sister.
It seems that the more I enjoy a book, and the fewer problems it has, the more I prefer to get those out of the way right off the bat in my reviews. There was very little about Mariah Stewart’s Mercy Street that I didn’t enjoy, and the majority of that most folks probably won’t notice. There are some minor point-of-view issues early on (such as a phone call which appears to be from one participant’s PoV at first and then from the other’s), but I think most readers won’t notice those. Also, the bad guys are rather shallow and stereotyped—they definitely aren’t the focus of the book, and are meant almost entirely as foils. However, as much as I love a good, three-dimensional villain, sometimes a mystery is plenty fun & engrossing with a good old-fashioned plain-cut villain, and I think this book falls into that latter category.
Mallory, Charlie, and the chief are all interesting characters, as are the priest, his cousin Robert, and Robert’s assistant and housekeeper. Where the bad guys lack depth, they’re made up for by nearly everyone else in the book. In particular, Robert and his situation (he lost his own wife and child more than a year before the story begins, and definitely hasn’t moved on) are interesting, and play into the story in fascinating ways. I don’t want to say too much more, but it definitely looks to me like Stewart is setting the stage for further books involving Mallory, Magellan, and plenty of fascinating missing-persons cases.
Charlie and Mallory are both great detectives, and they make a fantastic team. They have an enjoyable chemistry, and it’s interesting watching that slowly develop as they work together. The plot is interesting—it’s somewhere in the middle of the road, I’d say, with regard to complexity; it’s neither the most straightforward and obvious nor the most complex and twisting mystery I’ve read. The pacing is great; it builds appropriately, pulling the reader in early on in the book and gripping harder the further it goes. By the end there’s definitely some interesting action and a few tense moments.
If you enjoy mysteries, this is a good one. It’s a rich, visual tale with tension and interesting characters, and I find myself hoping there will be follow-on novels!