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by Joanna Schaffhausen
Minotaur, January 2019
320 pages
ISBN: 1250297362

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Ellery Hathaway has been suspended from the Boston Police Force over an incident that occurred in THE VANISHING SEASON, Joanna Schaffhausen's first novel, winner of the First Crime Novel Award by the Mystery Writers of America. Ellery shot and killed a suspect and now she finds herself in required therapy. Her therapist suggests strongly that she join her group for victims of violent crime.

Ellery does not take too well to talking about her feelings and at the first session she finds a way to become a detective for several of the other members of the group. The first victim she encounters is a woman with a shaved head who has No Mercy tattooed on her neck. She begs Ellery to find the man who raped her eight months ago so that she can get her life back.

Ellery is extremely well known because of what happened to her when she was fourteen. She was abducted, held hostage in a closet and repeatedly raped and sexually tortured. The fact that she survived was a result of her rescue by FBI profiler Reed Markham, who later wrote a book about the incident. Two movies have also appeared over the years. Then she killed that man and now everyone recognizes her on the street.

So she does not really want to take on a case while she is suspended, but for the third time in her life, she asks Reed Markham to help her. Reed is recently divorced and feels compelled to come to Ellery's rescue again.

So they begin to search for clues. While the rapist wore a ski mask and gloves and climbed in Wendy's second floor window in the middle of the night, Reed soon unearths some clues. Ellery also begins to suspect that another therapy group member may be responsible for putting away the wrong man in a firebug incident twenty years earlier. Again Reed, with his FBI access to information begins to unearth very interesting details at the scene of that furniture store fire.

Ellery and Reed are rich and deep characters, brilliantly described by Schaffhausen. And of course there is an attraction between them. But Reed is recently divorced, awaiting a big promotion and he has been told by his boss to stay away from Ellery. And Ellery is profoundly traumatized by her childhood experience. She pretty much avoids all physical and emotional contact, especially with men. SHE DOES NOT DATE!

These two people are excellent detectives and in the course of the novel, the two cases they take on are unwound and solved. Meanwhile the sexual tension rises to a fever pitch, only to be quenched each time by interruptions related to the cases.

The more difficult of the two cases, the arson, takes a very surprising twist as it unravels, described with a delightful elegance. In fact, the elegance with which Schaffhausen writes, as well as the delicately hinted at menace in the atmosphere, makes NO MERCY one of the most satisfying mysteries I have read in years.

And you can bet on a third Ellery Hathaway novel, somehow involving Reed Hathaway as well. I will be the first to grab it off the shelf. I will also be going back to the first Ellery Hathaway novel, THE VANISHING SEASON, as I wait in anticipation for number three.

Susan Hoover is a playwright, independent producer and retired college English teacher. She lives in Nova Scotia.

Reviewed by Susan Hoover, October 2018

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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