No Mercy (Mercy Gunderson Series #1)

No Mercy (Mercy Gunderson Series #1)

by Lori Armstrong

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Overview

From award-winning author Lori Armstrong comes a gripping tale of brutal murder, as former army sniper Mercy Gunderson learns anew when she returns to the family ranch that, for the weak, the western plains of South Dakota hold...NO MERCY.

The body of a teenage Indian boy found on land belonging to the Gunderson ranch is just the beginning. When a second teen is killed, the crime moves even closer to home for Mercy. The Iraq veteran is no stranger to death, but these murders are deeply personal, recalling all too clearly a childhood marred by violence and tragedy. The local sheriff seems strangely apathetic, so Mercy throws herself into an investigation that is driven by a desire for justice . . . and retribution. But as she digs up the truth behind the shocking crimes, she uncovers dark and dangerous secrets involving those she loves. Now she must race to stop a killer before everything she’s fought for is destroyed forever.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781476798509
Publisher: Gallery Books
Publication date: 08/30/2014
Series: Mercy Gunderson Series , #1
Pages: 416
Sales rank: 772,527
Product dimensions: 4.90(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Lori Armstrong is the two-time winner of the Shamus Award given by the Private Eye Writers of America and a New York Times bestselling author of romantic fiction, written as Lorelei James. Her books have won the Willa Cather Literary Award and have been nominated for the High Plains Book Award and the Daphne du Maurier Award. She lives in western South Dakota. Visit her website at LoriArmstrong.com.

Read an Excerpt

ONE

One week later

Listening to bawling cows headed for the slaughterhouse is a shitty way to start a day.

I slammed the front window shut and crawled back between the cool cotton sheets. When my father’s phantom voice nagged me for sleeping in, I jerked the quilt over my head.

Go away, Dad. I’m too damn old to feel guilty about not getting up at the crack of dawn to do chores.

It took me a while to get back to sleep. When I did drift off, the scorching summer afternoon from thirty years past came rushing back, dreamlike, except it hadn’t been a dream:

“Momma had a baby and its head popped off.” I sited my target and pulled the trigger.

Crack.

An immediate pain-filled screech morphed into prairie silence.

My heart thumped. I held the Remington tight even after the recoil pad bit into my shoulder. Heard the hollow click as the spent brass cartridge ejected out the side and chinked on the rocky ground.

Bluish smoke eddied around me. Gravel dug into my forearms. Powdery gray dirt coated my sunburned skin even as gnats buzzed around my ears and inside my nose.

I didn’t care.

Exhilarated, I eyed the headless body through the scope and surveyed the bloody chunks of meat spread across the soil in the ultimate buzzard’s buffet.

“Got ya dead-on, ya dirty bastard,” I whispered to the decimated prairie dog, my tone reminiscent of Eastwood in The Outlaw Josey Wales.

Dad chuckled, shifting his position on the slope. “Your mom’d have a conniption fit if she heard you talkin’ like that.”

“Then it’s a good thing she’s not here.”

“Yeah.” He squinted at me, finding something on my face that made the laughter bleed out of his eyes. “Real good thing.”

A clement breeze stirred the smell of sage, skunkweed, and hot dirt. Scents I’d forevermore associate with death.

He eased back on his haunches and stood, wincing. The lack of circulation in his legs was getting worse, though he tried to be a tough guy and hide it from me. I let him. When he held out his big hand to help me up, I let him do that, too.

“Come on, sport. Let’s see what damage you done. You ain’t a bad shot—”

“For a girl,” I supplied.

He spit a stream of tobacco juice next to my ropers. Just like my hero, Josey. He looked me dead in the eye. “Anyone who ever says that to you, Mercy Gunderson, is a fool.”

I woke with a start. At least the combat flashbacks had tapered off, but I couldn’t remember the last time I’d had a decent night’s sleep. Maybe I should fill that prescription for Ambien next time I was at the VA.

After I’d finished my yoga practice, I wandered outside. The thermometer read 87 degrees. In the shade. I snagged a Crystalyx feed cap off the hook by the door and detoured to the activity by the barn.

The semitruck was backed up to the loading gate. Flies buzzed everywhere. Familiar, pungent smells of dirt and manure hung in the dry air. Most people gagged at the odors, but I’d gotten used to them again, the scents of home. I hoisted myself atop the fence and watched the action unfold.

Our two hired men, TJ and Luke, were on horseback, herding the animals. The ranch foreman, Jake, culled the ones he wanted and sent the others out of the penning area with a slap on the flank.

One stubborn cow refused to move.

Jake bent down and spoke directly into the floppy ear.

The tail swished and then the cow slowly got in line.

I laughed. How cool. We had our very own cow whisperer. I would’ve zapped it with a cattle prod until it bellered and trotted up the ramp like a good little doggie.

Another obvious difference between Jake and me.

After the metal door to the chute banged shut, and the semi rattled down the rutted driveway, the foreman ambled toward me.

Jake Red Leaf had run my father’s ranch for the last twenty-odd years. Jake wasn’t a grizzled old Indian rancher, but fairly young, around forty-five. Despite spending years outside in the harsh elements, he’d aged well and was a good-looking man, so it surprised me he was still single.

What didn’t surprise me, or anyone else, was that Jake knew the day-to-day operations of the Gunderson Ranch better than I did. Better than I’d ever wanted to.

I shifted my position atop the rickety fence. The wooden slats scraped my palms. I’d probably spend half the damn night digging slivers out.

“Nice to see you out in the fresh air and sunshine.”

“Yeah, ’cause I so don’t get enough of it being stationed in the world’s biggest sandbox.”

Ignoring my barb, Jake tipped back his battered Resistol and wiped the sweat from his forehead with the heel of his hand. His eyes caught mine. “How’s Hope today?”

“Your grandma says she checked on her at seven and Hope was still in bed.”

“Was Levi around?”

“I doubt it. Why? Was he supposed to be working today?”

“Yep. Promised to help me load cattle.”

Levi was my younger sister’s fifteen-year-old son. As much as I’d adored him as a baby, his wide-eyed wonder, his drooly smiles, his gurgling coos of contentment whenever I held him, these days he steered clear of me. If his recent behavior was any indication, the kid was about half a step from ending up in the juvenile court system.

Hope blamed Levi’s bad behavior on Levi’s daddy dying in a trucking accident when the boy was six. I blamed Levi’s bad behavior on Levi. Other kids had lost a parent at a young age—Hope and myself included. Hope believed in giving Levi free reign. My mind-set? If Jake or one of the other ranch hands took a horse rein to him, he’d straighten up in a helluva hurry.

However, my opinion held no weight. I’d been an absent aunt most of Levi’s life, as well as an absent sister. Add in the fact I’ve never given birth? Well, I’d be better off talking to a fence post.

“You act surprised he didn’t show,” I said.

“Not really. He’s been runnin’ with a rough crowd from the rez lately. Chet said he saw Levi and a buncha boys in the back of a pickup headed up toward that abandoned mine a coupla weeks back.” Jake placed a worn Tony Lama on the bottom rung and propped his muscled forearms on the fence.

“Who were the boys?”

“Dunno. Some punks. Someone oughta talk to him about it. Especially in light of the fact we found his buddy Albert chewed up as coyote food in our pasture last week.”

“Count me out for initiating that conversation. Hope has never listened to me, and she’s completely blind where that kid is concerned.”

“Funny. Your dad used to say the same thing. Of course, Wyatt wore those same rose-colored glasses when it came to his only grandson.”

A black veil dropped over me as if a hail cloud covered the sun. I released a slow breath. “Don’t know if I’ll ever get used to hearing Dad referred to in the past tense. Maybe—”

“Stop beatin’ yourself up. Nothin’ you coulda done.”

“I can’t believe I wasn’t here.”

“He wouldn’t have known if you had been.”

“That doesn’t make me feel less guilty, Jake.”

He cocked his head and looked up at me. “You talked to anybody about it?”

“Like who?”

“Like one of them doctors at the VA hospital. Unci says you been goin’ there since you got back from Iraq, eh?”

Damn Sophie Red Leaf and her big mouth. Had she ever considered maybe I didn’t want everyone to know about my health problems? Especially her grandson?

I didn’t respond. Instead, I tipped my face to the heavens. My eyes traced a long white vapor trail bisecting the vivid blue sky. I half wished I was on that plane, gazing wistfully at the patchwork of fields and farms from thirty thousand feet.

“Mercy? You okay?”

“Yeah. I’ll see you later.” I’d rather be skinned alive than talk about my feelings and failings, with Jake of all people.

I hopped off the fence. A cloud of ginger-colored dirt puffed around my bare ankles as I crossed the expanse of gravel and weeds known as the “yard” on my way to the house.

Our farmhouse was built in the 1930s, one of those “kit” houses sold by Sears Roebuck, where everything from the roof trusses to the oak trim was shipped out on railcars, transferred to flatbed trucks, and then the house was assembled onsite. Ours wasn’t a typical one-level ranch bungalow, but a big two-story Victorian/craftsman–style hybrid. Five bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs, plus an enormous attic that ran the entire length of the house. The main floor boasted a good-sized kitchen, a formal dining room and living room, plus a full bathroom complete with a claw-foot bathtub, a parlor restyled as an office, and a sun porch used as a storage/laundry room.

Over the years, the Gundersons installed numerous updates. The last, when we’d added a handicapped-accessible bedroom and bathroom on the bottom floor, along with a separate entrance with a wheelchair ramp for my dad. Luckily the doorways downstairs were already wide enough to accommodate his wheelchair. For some reason that hadn’t made Dad happy.

I’d always found it strange the front door faced the road, but the covered porch with the entrance to the back door was the main entrance. Very rarely did we—or any friends visiting us—use the front door.

During my teen years, the size of our home embarrassed me. Most of my friends lived in ancient trailers or tiny farm shacks. But Dad claimed since we owned the biggest acreage in the county, it only made sense we lived in the biggest house.

Pebbles shifted beneath my sandals as I passed the abandoned chicken coop. White chunks of paint were peeling off the side panels and around the deformed round-topped door. I’d have to paint the damn thing soon or hire someone else to do it. My focus shifted to the buckled boards on the machine shed, darkened from weathered gray to moldy black. Another project requiring my attention.

Hoo-ray. Life on a ranch was never-ending, backbreaking work, which was why I’d shaken the cowshit off my boots and moved far away as soon as I was legal.

The sun seared my skin. As I gazed across the flat, open area between the hulking house and the half-dozen outbuildings—metal, wood, antique, and new—I reconnected with my eighteen-year-old self and the realization I’d been trapped in a life I hadn’t chosen.

So how was it I’d traveled to all those exotic locales of my youthful daydreams only to find myself back here on the ranch? Facing responsibilities I didn’t want, with a sinking feeling I’d gone no place at all?

A mourning dove cooed. Another answered. I lifted my face to the blazing sky, wishing for a draft of cool air to carry earthy scents of freshly mown hay. But with the dry conditions all I caught was another nose full of dust.

Whining was pointless. I’d made sacrifices for my country; it was time to make them for my family.

I’d reached the house when an Eagle River County sheriff’s car zoomed up the drive. It parked between the Russian olive and the weeping willow, scaring a red squirrel from the bird feeder shaped like a decrepit outhouse. My sister Hope inherited our mother’s quirky taste. I knew Dad hadn’t chosen that kitschy piece to adorn the stalwart tree. It seemed undignified somehow.

A hat appeared out the driver’s side before the body unfolded. The guy raised his head. The stoic face beneath the mirrored shades belonged to the acting sheriff, Dawson.

Despite the fact my father respected Dawson enough to get him appointed temporary sheriff until elections were held, Dawson and I had established a guarded relationship from day one. Maybe because I had abandonment/replacement “daddy” issues on a personal and professional level with him—and wouldn’t the army shrinks have a field day with that? It bugged the crap out of me that Dawson raised my hackles and my interest like no other man I’d crossed paths with in the last decade.

He skirted the front end to open the right rear passenger door. Hauled Levi out. Handcuffed. Dawson growled in Levi’s ear to get him moving. Levi shuffled his big feet, untied shoelaces making curlicues in the gray dirt behind him.

“Miz Gunderson.” Dawson actually tipped his hat to me before he focused on Jake. “Red Leaf.”

I hadn’t heard Jake sneak up behind me. So much for my powers of observation.

“Sheriff. What’s going on?”

“You wanna tell her?” the sheriff prompted Levi.

Levi kept his mouth shut.

Dawson sighed. “Seems your nephew decided to break into old Mr. Pawlowski’s place and help himself to some of Mr. P.’s things while Mr. P. was at Thursday lodge.”

Hope wasn’t around to glare at me, so I didn’t bother to soften my reaction. “Levi, what the hell is wrong with you?”

Levi shrugged. And smirked. The little bastard.

“Who else was with him?”

“He claims no one.”

“What did you take?”

No answer from Klepto Boy.

I directed my questions to Dawson. “What did he take?”

“A couple bottles of booze, a couple bottles of pills.”

“What kind of pills?”

“Viagra.”

Imagining my ninetysomething neighbor with a hard-on was almost enough to make me shut my mouth.

Almost.

“What other kind of pills?”

“Vicodin.”

B&E with a narcotics charge? Levi was screwed. The cynical side of me thought maybe he’d finally done something serious enough to get him to straighten up. “Why did you bring him here?”

Jake sighed.

Guess I’d blown my chance for Aunt of the Year.

“Normally we’d send him off to the Juvenile Corrections Center in Rapid City, but Mr. Pawlowski isn’t pressing charges.”

My mouth dropped open. “Then why did he even call you?”

Sheriff Dawson crossed his arms over his chest and braced his feet wide. “Said he wanted us to ‘be aware of the problem’ but claims no harm was done since he got back his meds and his Lord Calvert.”

“That’s it?”

“No. He rambled about how he’d known the boy’s grandfather for more’n fifty years and remembered how tough it was when he’d lost his own pappy back in ’31.”

It amazed me how the old-timers talked like 1931 was last week, not last century.

Dawson added, “Mr. P. also swore your dad would’ve wanted this sort of thing handled by family.”

Levi glared at me from behind his fall of greasy brown hair. “Yeah? Well, she ain’t my mom.”

“Son, I got no problem taking you back to jail if you’d rather. Count yourself lucky I brought you here since nobody answered the door at your mom’s place.”

Super. In addition to dealing with my delinquent nephew, I had to worry about my delinquent sister.

“Can you keep an eye on him?” the sheriff asked.

Jake stepped up. “No problem, Sheriff. I’ve got lots of bales to unload.”

“Appreciate that.” Sheriff Dawson spun Levi around and unlocked the cuffs.

Levi rubbed his wrists, aiming his sullen face at the ground and trudging behind Jake toward the barn.

“You okay?” Dawson murmured.

My cap didn’t quite shield the sun from my eyes but I glanced up at Dawson anyway. Like my dad, Dawson was a big guy—six feet three inches, built like a Vikings linebacker. He even looked Nordic, with short-cropped blond hair and a broad forehead, razor-sharp cheekbones and a square chin. If the deep laugh and frown lines on his tanned face were any indication, he had a couple of years on me, which put him in his early forties.

I didn’t know much about him since he wasn’t a local, a transplant from “back east.” Most people think that phrase means the East Coast, but in South Dakota, “back east” means any mid-western location east of the Missouri River—in Dawson’s case, Minnesota.

“Just so we’re clear, Sheriff, Mr. Pawlowski had it wrong. My dad would’ve tossed Levi’s dumb butt in jail, family or not.”

“I figured as much. Didn’t seem productive to argue. Besides, I’m still feeling my way around being sheriff. Wyatt Gunderson left some mighty big shoes to fill.”

Sadness descended on me again. “Yeah, I’m sure he did.” I sucked at offering platitudes, so I didn’t bother.

I awaited a response that was a long time coming. Dawson tried to stare me down behind those dark glasses. An exercise in futility for him, because I always won. Always.

Finally he said, “Can I ask you something personal, Miz Gunderson?”

“Sure, if you call me Mercy. ‘Miz Gunderson’ makes me feel like an old maid.”

“Only a fool could set eyes on you and see an old maid.”

Whoo-boy. I’d be lying if I said his flattery rolled off me like water off a duck’s back. I wasn’t an ugly duckling, but I’d never been rodeo-queen material either. Mostly I’d gone out of my way to blend in. Still, it’d been years since I’d fallen for that “aw-shucks, I’m-just-a-good-old-boy” routine.

“Ask away, Sheriff.”

“Seems odd, with a spread this size, that Wyatt didn’t stick to ranching.”

If Dad had handpicked Dawson as his successor, why didn’t Dawson know the story? I hated rehashing personal family history. I leaned my backside against the dirty patrol car.

He followed suit.

“After my mom died, his heart wasn’t in ranching. Wasn’t in anything, really. He didn’t take care of himself. His diabetes got worse. Then he couldn’t do half the chores after they took his leg.”

“With Wyatt being handicapped, it surprised me he wasn’t behind a desk all the time at the sheriff’s office.”

“It was hard enough for him to be in a wheelchair. Strictly desk duty would’ve killed him.”

The diabetes eventually did. The image of my strong father lying weak in a hospital bed made me shudder, not that I’d seen his indignity firsthand.

“So, strapping on a gun and helping the community gave him a purpose?” Dawson asked.

“Yeah. But he couldn’t bear to sell his birthright outright, so he turned over day-to-day ranch operations to Jake. Jake’s cousins, Luke and TJ, work as hired hands.”

“Sounds like Red Leaf has been in charge a long time.”

I nodded.

“He must’ve been pretty young to take on such a big responsibility.”

“He was. But he knows what he’s doing. Makes sense when you consider members of the Red Leaf family have worked for us, in some capacity, for over a hundred years. It’s what Jake and Dad both wanted.”

“What about what you and your sister wanted?”

I shrugged. “She was young and I was uninterested.”

The thud of the wooden barn door echoed like a sonic boom. Jake, TJ, and Luke shouted to one another.

“You still ambivalent about running this ranch?”

I shrugged again.

“Are you gonna sell it?”

“Why?” My gaze snapped to his. “You interested in buying?”

“On my salary? You kidding?”

I wasn’t gullible enough to believe his rapid-fire denial.

He said, “I’m just as curious as the rest of the folks around here to know if you’ve lined up potential buyers.”

I scowled. “Don’t these people have anything better to do than gossip about me?”

“Nope. Long as we’re talking about it, lots of folks are plenty interested on what you’d been up to in the army.”

“It’s not that interesting, actually.”

“I hear ya. I was in the marines during Desert Storm.” He paused. “You’ve been in Iraq?”

I nodded.

“Wyatt didn’t talk much about your military duties.”

Because he couldn’t. How I’d earned my keep in service to Uncle Sam was on a need-to-know basis, so Dawson’s interest won him an abrupt subject change. “Why aren’t the locals talking about the Yellow Boy case?”

“They are.”

“Discovered any new info?”

“No.” His demeanor changed from amiable to brusque. “I don’t expect anyone will come forward with any either.”

“Why not?”

Dawson faced me. “Truth is, no one’s surprised that Indian kid ended up dead. He’d run away a half-dozen times before he was reported missing. Spent more time in trouble than he had at home recently.”

I remembered Albert’s parents, Estelle Apple and Paul Yellow Boy, from high school. Evidently neither of them had fallen into that brutal cycle of alcoholism and abuse that affects so many Indians living on the rez, and Albert’s disappearance and death sent shockwaves through the family. Since Levi and Albert were pals, and Levi was a pallbearer, Sophie had dragged me to the funeral. I’d gotten the impression Albert hadn’t been a troubled teen for very long. Then again, eulogies extolled virtues, not faults.

“So his death wasn’t from foul play?” I asked.

“‘Foul play.’ You sound like Wyatt. You really are a chip off the old block aren’t you?”

“That surprises you?”

“No.” He sighed. “I don’t know if it was an accident or something else.”

“That mean you’re done investigating?”

“Not a lot I can do at this point when no one will talk to me.”

He sounded a little whiny. Didn’t he know it’d take years for him to build up the trust my father had been granted?

Then again, maybe Dawson didn’t want that trust. Appeared he’d already written off the death as an accident. Wouldn’t be hard to believe he was another redneck who believed the only good Indian was a dead Indian.

I’d known more than my fair share of people sporting that attitude. I was temped to shoot them and eliminate their racism from further tainting the gene pool. Most days I refrained.

Most, but not all.

The screen door squeaked. My housekeeper/surrogate mother/babysitter/cook/chief meddler and Jake’s beloved grandmother, Sophie Red Leaf, limped down the porch steps. She shielded her eyes with a frayed kitchen towel. “Sheriff? Everything all right, hey?”

“Everything’s fine, Miz Red Leaf.”

“Not exactly fine,” I corrected. “Levi’s in trouble. The sheriff brought him here since Hope wasn’t home.”

“Where’s Levi now?”

“He and Jake are unloading hay bales.”

Sophie’s hard black stare nearly pinned my ears to my head. “Alone?”

Guilt kicked me in the ass; I could’ve been helping. But ranch duties were Jake’s job, not mine. I was JR to his Dusty. “No, TJ and Luke are here. Besides, the sheriff and I were discussing some other things.”

“Out here in this heat? Lord, Mercy, where are your manners?” She flapped the towel at me. “Sheriff, why doan you come on inside where it’s cool? I jus’ made a pitcher of iced tea. Think I can round up some of them gingersnaps you like so much, eh?”

Sophie knew Dawson’s cookie preferences?

“Hate to say no to those tasty sweets, Miz Red Leaf, but I have to get back to the station.”

“Lucky for you I’m bringin’ a fresh batch to the community center tomorrow night. But I’ll only share if a handsome young man such as yourself promises to save a dance for a gimped-up old wigopa like me.”

My head whipped to Sophie. Did she just bat her eyelashes? God help me, was my seventy-nine-year-old housekeeper… flirting with him?

“Gimped up? You? Hah. You’ll be dancin’ circles around me, for sure.” Dawson angled his head at me. “You goin’?”

Before I could scream no way Sophie clucked her tongue.

“Course Mercy will be there. Mebbe you’d better save her a dance, too, eh?”

“Be my pleasure.” The sheriff pushed away from the patrol car, brushing the dirt off his butt as he rounded the front end. He paused before climbing in. “When Hope turns up, tell her to call me at the sheriff’s department as soon as possible. Remind her she doesn’t want me to come lookin’ for her again.”

Again?

Puzzled, I watched dust devils engulf his car. When I turned around to ask Sophie what he’d meant, I found myself staring at her gingham apron strings as the screen door slammed behind her.

© 2010 Lori Armstrong

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for NO MERCY includes discussion questions and a Q&A with author Lori Armstrong. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.

For Discussion

1. After Mercy left the Army and her father died, what drew her back to South Dakota? Do you think she had something to prove, and to whom?

2. What has changed about her hometown since she left? What has remained the same?

3. In the Army, Mercy was required to keep a tough exterior. What effect does it have on her relationships after she leaves the Army? Did this change as the story unfolded?

4. Mercy’s Native American friend John-John told her “it’s our nature to reach out to you.” How does Mercy’s Indian heritage affect how she views her family and home?

5. What symbolism do you see in the South Dakota landscape in relation to Mercy’s life? The relationship between the white and Indian residents?

6. Discuss the attitudes of the white locals towards the Indians on the reservation and vice-versa. Did any of those feelings change throughout the course of the story?

7. How does the depressed economy of Eagle River Reservation affect the characters in the story? What do you think could be done to help the impoverished children in that community?

8. Discuss the relationship between Sophie and Mercy. Do they help balance each other out? Make life easier or harder for each other?

9. Both Mercy and Hope faced tragic deaths at an early age. How did that affect them as adults?

10. After the death of her mother, is Mercy’s fear of horses rational? Do you think she would have been better served to try to work through the fear at a younger age?

11. Did your view of Hope and her motivations change over the course of the book? Why or why not?

12. Mystery writers often allow suspicion to fall from one character to the next. Who did you originally think was involved in the murders? Did that change throughout your reading? What clues did you get that lead you to the true culprit?

13. As the story progressed, how do you think Mercy began to view returning to the Army? Do you think she would ever consider returning?

14. Did Mercy do the right thing at the end of the story by helping Jake? How do you think that will affect their future as family?

A Conversation with Lori Armstrong

1) How does the landscape of South Dakota affect the story and your writing of this novel?

Many readers have told me the South Dakota setting is its own character in my books—which is exactly what I aimed for as a writer. Giving people who’ve never visited our state a glimpse into the vastness, the climate, the splendor and the horror of living in rural area where the land can be as unforgiving, brutal, beautiful, and generous as the people who inhabit it.

2) Do you think there is a dysfunctional relationship between American Indians and white residents in that area?

There’s a lingering clash of cultures even a century after our official statehood. So many settlers in this part of the country were immigrants who were eager to be assimilated into a new way of life as Americans. Not so with the American Indians who had no choice but to be relegated to reservations. The government and assorted Christian religious factions tried to eradicate their entire culture, their language, and their traditions—assimilating them against their will. So I applaud the tribe’s and individual tribal member’s efforts to reconnect with the heritage they were forced to abandon or practice in secret. But I also think there’s still a long way to go to overcome past stereotypes—rednecks versus redskins—and realize our ethnic diversity should strengthen our state, not divide it.

3) How does your former professional career with firearms color this story?

When I worked in the family firearms business, I was surrounded by guns of all makes and models, all day, every day. But I didn’t pay much attention to them beyond knowing where the various pieces were in the production processes, looking at the finished product, and logging the serial numbers in and out of the databases. Which is an odd position to be in; people assume I know way more about individual firearms than I actually do. I’m lucky that my husband and his family are still in the gun business and I have firearms experts at my fingertips at all times, which is essential as a crime fiction author.

But that’s also what intrigues me, the diverse mindsets of individuals like me who’ve been raised around guns. Some people feel indifference. Some people see guns as a hobby: target shooting and collecting. Some people see guns as tools; used to hunt and for protection. Mercy falls into all categories, as guns were always part of her life, and her history. What fascinated me was she chose her military career based on her love and proficiency with firearms.

4) This is not the first book you’ve written about Native American culture. What draws you to it?

My own ignorance. I’ve lived in South Dakota almost my whole life and I’m shocked and embarrassed by how little I know about the various Native American tribes that populate our state. In school we learned about the explorers, the homesteaders, the pioneers, and the Deadwood gold rush but an entire segment of our population and their history was ignored. Thankfully, since my days in public school system, this oversight has been addressed. American Indian history has been included in the South Dakota State history curriculum. But I am definitely making up for lost time trying to learn all I can.



5) Mercy described her family as “land rich, but not money rich.” How does a story like Mercy’s exemplify some of the struggles farmers and ranchers face today, especially in the Midwest?

Drought, high fuel prices, low cattle prices, it’s not easy to entrust your livelihood year after year to things beyond your control. Especially when ranching is a family tradition, passed from one generation to the next. No one wants the bear the responsibility for losing the family land due to poor decisions or even from unforeseen economic situations, but it happens every day. There is also the lure of securing a future not subject to the whims of the weather and the cattle market when out of state developers show up flashing a wad of cash. It’s a catch-22 for many families.

6) Mercy is a no nonsense girl who understands that she lives in a man’s world, both in the Army and in the ranching industry. Is this a feeling you indentify with?

No. I’ve worked in a male-dominated field, but my life path has been completely different and much easier. Soldiers and ranchers are the toughest people I know—whether they’re male or female—so creating a female character who is a rancher and a soldier was too potent a combination for me to resist.

7) Why did you choose to make Mercy an injured Army veteran?

Strangely enough, I was watching a TV show on Army Rangers and it bothered me that women soldiers—no matter how qualified—weren’t allowed to train within the Special Forces units of all branches of the armed forces. Then I thought…but what if they are trained and used in covert ops? And it’s purposely hidden? That simple “what if” factor garners most of my character and plot ideas.

Sadly, serious injury is a reality of a soldier’s life, especially in times of war. Mercy’s injury has forced a life and career change she didn’t want, but when she visits the VA to deal with her disability, it drives home the point she’s been far luckier than many of her fellow soldiers.

8)What is it about mysteries that you enjoy so much?

The resolution. It heartening to start a book, knowing the bad guy (or girl) will get his or her comeuppance in the end, yet true justice isn’t always meted out by law enforcement agencies.

9) Would you consider writing outside the genre?

I do write outside the mystery genre, but I stick with rural themes in the contemporary western erotic romances I write under the pen name Lorelei James. Writing steamy romances allows me to delve into the main character’s relationship to intimacy, whereas in mystery, I’m dealing with the main character’s relationship to violence.

10) What’s your creative process like?

There is no magic fairy dust, nor do I await the mysterious muse to inspire or browbeat me. I love writing for a living. But it is a job, so I park myself in the chair every day and get to work. Usually when I start a mystery I know who dies, who did it, and why they did it. I also know the 8 to 10 “black moments” or points where the story changes direction, be it a plot point, another body showing up, or a change in character motivation. I don’t write extensive outlines, unless my editor asks for one, but I do write a three to five page synopsis that serves as a sort of roadmap. Of course, I’ve been known to travel off road; those unplanned journeys are often the most inspiring. Then again, I’ve had a flat tire or two on an off road detour, where I had to change it out and start over. But I’ve also stumbled across plot threads that pop up out of nowhere—a road that leads to the beautiful scenery you can see in the distance but can’t quite get to, and that is equally rewarding.

11) What projects are you working on next?

I’m currently writing the next book in the Mercy Gunderson mystery series, tentatively titled MERCY KILL, which has a release date of Jan. 2011.

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No Mercy (Mercy Gunderson Series #1) 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 36 reviews.
Lea-LeaLG More than 1 year ago
This was a well written and interesting subject for the area she was writing about. It shows how close knit people in small towns are even when a home town person is gone for long periods of time. She was very good at holding your attention for continious reading. This is a very close to reality story for this area.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was a prety good read. If you have read the Julie Collins series you will recognize a familiar trend. if you liked the Julie Collins series you will like this as well.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Enjoyable read and 'No Mercy' introduces a new character but still the same 'take no prisoners' woman of action. I have read Lori Armstrong's four Julie Collins PI books and also the second book 'Mercy Kill' with the Mercy Gunderson character. Can't wait for 'Dark Mercy' to be written and released.
Under_The_Covers_BookBlog More than 1 year ago
4.5 stars Reviewed by FRANCESCA & posted at Under the Covers Book Blog This book is original and engaging. The storyline kept me on my toes, and surprised me as well.” ~Under the Covers I’ve been wanting to read Lori Armstrong for a while. Mainly because this is the mystery alter ego of one of my favorite authors, the talented Lorelei James. I’ve always loved a good mystery book to begin with and this sounded right up my alley. I couldn’t have been more impressed. This book is original and engaging. The storyline kept me on my toes, and surprised me as well. Just when I thought I knew how things would happen, something would go a different way. And then there’s Mercy. She’s the driving force in this book, at least for me. She could quickly become one of my favorite heroines. She’s damaged by everything she’s been through in the military. She has to stay strong against the rest of the town who doesn’t think she can come back and take over her father’s ranch. She has to be strong for her family. But she’s so vulnerable. I love that side of a strong woman.
caitemaire on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The book may be titled No Mercy, but there is a Mercy in this book and it is our heroine Mercy Gunderson. Mercy is on medical leave form the Army, home at the family ranch in South Dakota to attend the funeral of her father. She is a woman with some secrets, among them that she is on a medical leave and what her injuries are and how she acquired those injuries. Because Mercy is in a job in the Army that does not officially exist. She is one of a small group of female snipers, trained to be able to infiltrate places, disguised as an Iraqi or Afghan woman, that a man could not easily get into.She is returning home from a very dangerous place, where her nightmares of death are all too real. But things are not all that peaceful at the ranch and neighboring Lakota reservation. The body of one young Indian boy has been found on Gunderson land and when a second person turns up dead and it seems Mercy herself may be a target, it is time for her to use some of those skills the Army has taught her over the last 20 years to save the very way of life of those around her.According to a brief bio of Ms. Armstrong on her website, she is a fourth generation South Dakotan and also was formally employed in the firearm industry, two facts which may help to explain why so much of this book rings so true. In her acknowledgments, Armstrong also thanks "the soldier/sharpshooter who gave me the lowdown on army life in wartime." and that too felt very real and was quite affecting. Her descriptions of the ranch, the surrounding landscape and the reservation are hard and real and dusty, not some pretty fantasy of life out west. And some of the people, including Mercy herself are pretty hard too, and far from perfect. Now...the book is not perfect. The solution to the mystery was not a great shock and Mercy lost some point for breaking my "I Hate Characters That Do Dumb Stuff" guidelines. A suggestion...if people seem to be out to do you harm, it might be wise to stay sober. And carry a gun. Sober and armed. Really.But I will forgive her for this breach of my guidelines because overall she, and several of the supporting characters, are interesting and real and ones I will be happy to meet again in future books in the series. A great setting, some good characters and a fairly good mystery make this a book I would recommend.
cmeilink on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I can see why the author has won several awards. Her writing, characters, and pacing are superb.After being injured in her tour of duty in Iraq, Mercy Gunderson returns home to her ranch in South Dakota. Her mother died years ago, her father recently passed away, her sister has problems with responsibility, and she hasn't spent any time with her nephew in years. Given her family life and the fact that the body of a dead Indian teenager has just been found on her land, Mercy's life is not without its share of problems.As more dead teenagers continue to be found on her land, Mercy, the soldier, decides to do her own type of investigation.Mercy is a strong personality--hotheaded, straightforward, and a woman who doesn't pull any punches.Loved Mercy...loved the book. Finished it in one day.
JackieBlem on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Lori Armstrong may just be the best mystery writer that you don't know about yet. She's got one series already (The Julie Collins series) and has been nominated for several awards, but so far she's flown below the popularity radar. No longer, at least if I can help it. No Mercy is the first book in the series featuring former Army sniper Mercy Gunderson who is one tough-n-tough woman who nevertheless fiercely loves her family. She is on medical leave back at their South Dakota ranch trying to keep things together after the body of a local teen is found on her land--and others begin to show up as well. Armstrong worked in the weapons industry for several years before becoming a full time writer, and is a 4th generation South Dakotan herself, so she's made Mercy very nuanced and believable. She's the kind of woman you want in your corner, and I guarantee after reading this first book, you'll be eagerly waiting for the next to spend more time with her. The author's love of the ranch lands of the west comes through crystal clear as well with her ability to vividly set a scene. You do NOT want to miss this book!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This woman is an animal-abusing monster. I very much want to take a cattle orod to the author and see how much she would lime it. Disgusting in every way.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The author's descriptions of the South Dakota landscape is filled with the details that made me feel, see and smell the ranch and surrounding county while I was reading. The real draw, however, is the tough but flawed protaganist. Rarely do I enjoy a female main character so much. The only issue I have is that Mercy is so similar to another main character of the author's, Julie Collins. However, since I enjoyed the Julie Collins' series just as much, both series deserve 5 stars.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Wonderful story. Believable characters. Mercy is a strong, independent woman.
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Gut wrenchingly good read. I couldn't put it down.
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