Fresh Meat: Merciless by Lori Armstrong

Merciless by Lori Armstrong is the latest in the series featuring former Army sniper turned FBI agent Mercy Gunderson (available January 8, 2013)

Mercy Gunderson is thrown into her first FBI murder case, working with the tribal police on the Eagle River Reservation, where the victim is the teenaged niece of the recently elected tribal president. When another gruesome killing occurs during the early stages of the investigation, Mercy and fellow FBI agent Shay Turnbull are at odds about whether the crimes are connected.

Mercy can’t discuss her concerns about the baffling cases with her live-in boyfriend, Eagle River County Sheriff Mason Dawson, due to job confidentiality, and the couple’s home on the ranch descends into chaos when Dawson’s eleven-year-old-son Lex is sent to live with them. While hidden political agendas and old family vendettas turn ugly, masking motives and causing a rift among the tribal police, the tribal council, and the FBI, Mercy realizes that the deranged killer is still at large—and is playing a dangerous game with his sights set on Mercy as his next victim.

Merciless is the third book in Lori Armstrong’s Mercy Gunderson series about a former Army sniper who’s become an FBI agent. Mercy is one-quarter Minneconjou Sioux, which both gives her an edge and hinders her when a bizarre murder case on a nearby reservation is assigned to her and her partner. There’s ample conflict between Mercy and the other FBI agent with whom she working, between Mercy and the people surrounding the victim, and between the different law enforcement agencies supposedly collaborating to solve the case. The case, of course, ends up being more multifaceted than it originally appears.

What interested me most about this novel was how it took common tropes of the contemporary police procedural and made them more complex and interesting through Mercy’s unique point of view. Nothing is quite as Mercy, or the reader, expects it to be, which means it’s never boring, and there are plenty of political ins and outs to consider along with the crime itself. In other words, it seems very realistic!

Plus, I just liked Mercy’s first-person narration, which showed her humor as well as her toughness.

I blamed my unrealistic expectations of becoming an FBI special agent on The X?Files. Granted, Mulder and Scully were fictional characters, but working in the FBI was nothing like portrayed on any TV shows. Disappointment made me want to crawl inside the TV and kick some ass. Figuratively speaking, of course. So far my new FBI job hadn’t entailed chasing down aliens—either illegal or the bug-eyed, misshapen-headed types. I hadn’t been assigned a trippy private office that I could decorate with funky, yet prophetic posters. I hadn’t met a weirdly wise, hip, confidential informant. I hadn’t participated in a raid where I got to yell, “Federal agents! Everyone on the ground!” The brass hadn’t issued me a shiny badge or one of those rocking black jackets with FBI emblazoned in big white letters on the back. Heck, I hadn’t even been saddled with an official partner. I was damn lucky I’d gotten a gun. Not that I’d gotten to shoot it yet.

Mercy is far from a typical new FBI recruit. She is older than most rookie special agents, and has already had a great deal of military training and experience, which gives her a different perspective than many of her fellow agents. In addition, she’s dealt with a lot of personal tragedy, including the murder of her nephew, and is shown to have the strength to survive it. She’s already seen some of the depths to which her emotions can fall, and has transcended them to continue in a new career.

When I’d snapped out of the haze following the death of my former army buddy Anna, a death in which I’d pulled the trigger, I realized I needed more out of my life than being a retired soldier, part-time rancher, and full-time drinker. Since my skill set had been honed behind the scope of my sniper rifle, there wasn’t much in the way of career opportunities in western South Dakota. I was zero for two on the attempted-career front; I’d made a lousy bartender and had lost when I ran for my dad’s old job as Eagle River County Sheriff.

Her Native American heritage also factors in to the politics surrounding her position itself and the investigation, which requires cooperation between the FBI and the tribal police.

The latest departmental catchphrase touted the “new spirit of cooperation” on the Eagle River Reservation between the recently elected new tribal president, the newly promoted chief of the tribal police, and the “local” fresh Indian blood in the FBI—aka me.

After reading this novel, I definitely think it will be worth it to check out the previous two books in this series. I’m excited to find out how Mercy got to this point, and am looking forward to seeing where she goes from here.

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See more coverage of new releases in our Fresh Meat series.


Victoria Janssen is the author of three novels and numerous short stories.  Her World War I-set Spice Brief, “Under Her Uniform”, is a tie-in to her novel The Moonlight Mistress. Follow her on Twitter: @victoriajanssen or find out more at

Read all posts by Victoria Janssen for Criminal Element.


  1. Saundra Peck

    I agree Victoria, this looks like a great series. Thanks! I will read the first two to get ready for the new release! And I am on to your website now to check out your books too!

  2. Donna Antonio

    Oh boy more books for my wish list

  3. Betty Breier

    I love this series. Can’t wait for this one! Thanks for the review.

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