RogerBW's Blog

A Merciful Death, Kendra Elliot 07 August 2019

2017 mystery, first in the Mercy Kilpatrick series. Mercy is an FBI agent, but she grew up as a prepper, stocked up on goods and skills for the end of civilisation. Now she's sent back to the small town in Oregon that she left fifteen years ago, where preppers also seem to be the target of the latest murderer.

And yes, of course the reason why she left will be aired. And yes, the handsome chief of police is an outsider with his own post-traumatic stress to heal. So far, so formulaic.

But the gimmick, of both one of the investigators and the victims being preppers, saves things for long enough for the actual characters to kick in. It's a little odd, though. The people in that particular mindset whom I've read about generally seem to be expecting specific events – once upon a time a nuclear strike by the USSR, now whatever myth appeals to them, whether that be post-trib Rapture, the collapse of the financial system, race war… the point is they have a single scenario in mind, and that guides the kind of preparation they make. Not so in this book: they're definitely expecting something, but they have no theory about what form it'll take, just that at some point they'll need to be self-sufficient (for a year? Ten years? Not specified), and the main way to do this seems to be to form interest groups so that they know they'll have a vet, a midwife, etc. on their side when they suddenly become scarce resources.

So Mercy has to decide how much of her knowledge of this stuff to reveal (it's useful in understanding the victims, but even in a mild form it's really not socially acceptable), and indeed how to manage the revelation that she's back in town. That works well, and if the romance is essentially without stumbling-blocks it is only happening over a few days.

That's all more interesting than the actual criminal, who falls into one of the standard patterns in this sort of thing: all their behaviour is explained by their upbringing. Ho hum. Also the book commits one of my cardinal sins of a mystery, of showing us significant events from the bad guy's viewpoint.

A side note involves people getting lost, or needing "precise, mileage-based directions" to find remote houses - I know American maps are generally pretty terrible, but what about GPS receivers? At one point someone actually mentions having one, and that he's off any roads his device knows about. Hey, Americans - do you not even have maps based on satellite imagery? I realise OpenStreetMap is eating the commercial mapping providers alive, but…

All right, several people here are annoying at times and some of the early parts of the book are quite slow, but Mercy is well-drawn (and is an effective picture of someone recovering from a cult mindset, while still having incorporated some of its principles into her own personality), and… for all it's a very American book, I think Elliot is working in the tradition of romantic suspense that Mary Stewart did so well. I'll certainly read another of these.

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