|What would suspense writers do without the proverbial serial killer? Thank heavens they don’t populate our streets the way they do our novels. Mariah Stewart’s new installment in her “Mercy Street” series offers an interesting take on a mass killer. The murderer is clearly circling around the hero with his series of killings modeled on the “seven acts of mercy:” feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, visit the sick, visit the imprisoned, bury the dead.
The hero is Sam Delvecchio, a former FBI profiler who quit the agency after the murder of his wife by a serial killer he was tracking. The killer was caught, tried and imprisoned. He continues to harass Sam by regularly insisting that he was innocent of the wife’s murder, even though his fingerprints were found in their house and the killing followed his MO. Sam found constantly prying into the minds of psychopaths too debilitating so he quit and traveled the world, going to all those places he and his wife talked of seeing. Now he is back in the USA and needs a job. He sees an advertisement for a PI at a private foundation that investigates crimes and missing persons that the authorities have been unable to solve. He applies for the position.
The Mercy Street Foundation was created by multi-millionaire Robert Magellan after his wife and infant son disappeared. The first two books in the series obviously developed this storyline and the establishment of the organization. At the beginning of this installment, we discover that the body of Magellan’s wife has been found, the victim of a car crash. The son is still missing.
Sam’s credentials are attractive and his skills as a profiler and his contacts with the FBI should help the foundation achieve its mission. Also attractive is the appeal of Lynn Walker of Lincoln, Nebraska for help finding out who had killed her husband a year earlier. Ross Walker had been found concealed behind the premises of the food kitchen where he and his wife regularly volunteered. He had been strangled and then viciously stabbed and left naked with a Macdonald’s burger in his mouth. The local police had been unable to find the killer. Lynn, wanting closure, has asked the Mercy Street Foundation for help.
Sam takes the job and the case. A native Nebraskan, he went to school in Lincoln and knows the neighborhood where the victim lived. His meeting with the detective in charge of the case yields an intriguing piece of information: the FBI is interested in the case. Sam’s contacts with the bureau come in handy and he discovers that agent Fiona Summers has inquired about the Walker case. is excellent reputation with the FBI come in handy and Agent Summers, despite her reputation for being difficult, proves willing to cooperate. She believes that Walker is the first of three victims of a single murderer.
Sam and Fiona are handed the obvious connection when a local priest notes the relationship to the cardinal acts of mercy. But another similarity also emerges: Sam had ties to all three places and to the dates on which the murders were committed. And when a fourth death occurs with a similar pattern, well, there are no coincidences in a homicide investigation.
Thus begins the quest to discover who in Sam’s past is targeting him through these murders.
The suspense is very well done and Stewart provides the requisite background to help the reader figure out the killer’s motivations. The characters are well drawn and interesting. You might, then, well ask why do I rate Acts of Mercy as an acceptable rather than recommended romantic suspense novel? The explanation lies in the balance of the plot. This is more of a suspense novel with a love story rather than a romance. The growing relationship between Sam and Fiona is pleasant, but it seems quite secondary to the story.
Those who have read the other Mercy Street books will certainly want to read Acts of Mercy. Considerable attention is paid to the characters and circumstances that shaped the previous stories and important elements have their denouement. I should say that the inclusion of these elements did not distract from my enjoyment of this novel, even though I have not read the previous books.
If you like a strong suspense novel with a nice romance, Acts of Mercy may well be for you.