Mercy Falls by William Kent Krueger
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
In 2006 William Kent Krueger won the Anthony Award for “Mercy Falls”, which I find quite surprising. I would think that a novel winning a prestigious mystery book award should have at least one of the following: believable, clever, and enthralling plot, virtuoso writing, vivid characterizations of people, astute psychological or sociological observations, uncannily accurate sense of places and times, or some other distinctive feature that sets it apart from thousands of other mystery novels. Obviously, I must not be a competent reader because I could not find any such qualities in “Mercy Falls”, although it is a fine and readable novel.
The plot begins with Sheriff Cork O’Connor and Deputy Dross being shot at (Dross is seriously wounded) on the Ojibwe Indian reservation in northern Minnesota. Then, the mutilated body of a Chicago businessman, who has been involved in negotiating a management contract with the local Indian casino, is found at Mercy Falls. The plot is promising and engaging at the beginning of the novel, but then it slows down and plods along. The pace picks up a little at the end, unfortunately at the expense of plausibility; some components of the denouement are just plain ridiculous.
The writing is competent, economical, and simple, yet far from outstanding. “Smiles like small bright caterpillars crawled across his daughters’ lips” is not a sentence that the best mystery authors would use in their prose. The characters in the novel, even the main ones, are drawn rather sketchily. No wonder – this is the sixth book in the Cork O’Connor series, so the readers (and the writer) know everything about the recurring characters, which seems to absolve the author from providing any depth. The life and culture of Ojibwe people are not shown in any depth either. Again, the author had probably done a much better job in this respect in the first books of the series (I have not read any of the previous novels).
There are three threads in the novel: the “sheriff procedural”, a story line related to Jo O’Connor’s past, and Dina Willner’s thread. To me the last one is the most satisfying; the first one is just not very interesting, and the second is psychologically implausible. The observations of the arrogance of the very rich people are far from profound.
The book features a literary gimmick: it begins with a short chapter “How It Ends”. It does not add anything to the story; it is just the author’s way of telling the reader “Look how clever I am!”
“Mercy Falls” is a good book; I am just unable to find any award-deserving qualities in it.
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