Mother of Mercy by author Lee Charles follows the investigation into a series of ritualistic murders with socioreligious/psychosexual overtones. In a refreshing change of pace from most modern novels in the genre, the wet work happens away from the audience. The book is described as “a taut mystery and a meditation on losing one’s way between body and spirit”, but I just wasn’t feelin’ it on either score.
The author does an excellent job of painting a picture of a serial killer and how he got to be who he is. I also appreciated the author’s effective prose as he told his tale. These two elements kept me reading to the end. It’s rare that I don’t recommend a story if I finish the book, but in this case, the best I can say about the novel is that it was okay. However, I would read the author’s work again, because I think he definitely has the potential to write an excellent psychological thriller with more experience. He just didn’t make it there in this debut novel.
The story suffered from relying on unrealistic situations and behaviors to keep the action going. The “good guy” characters all made bad choices (by which I mean “behaved stupidly”) most of the time. The entire investigation was a red herring in which the police stubbornly followed only leads that wouldn’t solve the case, so there was no opportunity to play along and guess who the killer was, which is half the fun of a mystery novel for me. In addition, people who aren’t guilty refuse to talk and go into hiding, even though they have committed no crimes. When it seems some information will be coming soon, a critical witness conveniently has a heart attack just before spilling his guts. And, finally, just when information is needed to prevent another death, the required state database is down. Damn those computers!
The only character that I could connect with in any way was the protagonist, Newman, a priest who is tapped to consult on the religious aspects of the case. As the case continues, he ends up interrogating a suspect and becoming actively involved in the investigation. I don’t know about you, but I find this unrealistic. He’s also friends with a female co-counselor, Rachel (the investigating officer’s daughter), who is so dense that she can’t figure out why a Catholic priest coworker doesn’t appear to want anything more out of their relationship than friendship. It seems there was to have been a central conflict for Newman around this issue, but it didn’t come across as anything more than a side note.
I give the novel three stars for skilled prose, good psychological underpinnings, and the fact that I finished it despite repeatedly getting annoyed with many of the characterizations and the too-convenient plot devices. If you’re interested in getting other opinions on the book before you make up your mind, you can find the novel and several differing viewpoints on Amazon.com.