Click here to read reviewer Luan Gaines' take on Cruel Mercy.
I’m not usually an impatient reader, but I found myself itching to get the end of David Mark’s latest Aector McAvoy outing. I kept waiting for something, anything, to change: for the plot to move along and for answers to be given. Although the novel was far too convoluted for my taste, Mark does recreate a dramatic tour de force that engages the head as well as the heart. Cruel Mercy could almost serve as a modern reworking of
Crime and Punishment. Dostoyevsky would certainly have approved of the novel’s psychological rigor as Mark’s characters--a heady mixture of New York mob bosses and runaway Irishmen--strive to outrun their sins and negotiate their way through a complex and sinister moral maze.
The novel’s preamble gives us a taste of the violence to come. A young Hispanic girl finds herself trapped, with her memories colliding and smashing and splintering. She wonders about her “endless sins” and why she allowed “the devil” to seduce her. McAvoy meanwhile, arrives into wintry Manhattan and deep into the machinations of the City’s seventh precinct. Here he meets veteran Detective Ronald Alto, head of the precinct’s homicide unit. For the last few months, Alto has
been doggedly pursuing a money launderer with links to Paulie Pugliesca, the head of one of New York’s greatest crime families. From the moment they meet, the two detectives hit it off. Alto is warm and welcoming, seeing a likeminded soul in the ginger-goateed McAvoy.
Needing to feel like a policeman and “not like a damn fool far from home,” McAvoy enlists Alto to help in his search for his wayward brother-in-law, Valentine Teague. Acting on a plea from his wife, Roisin--and
also under orders from his boss, Trish Pharaoh--McAvoy imparts to Alto the various intelligence obtained about two Irishmen: Shay Helden and his boxing coach, Brishen Ayres.
The men recently flew out to the United States in the hope of making their dreams come true. Three days later, their
bodies were found in a shallow grave in a patch of woodland in Upstate New York. Helden was shot in the back and then stabbed. Ayres survived but is now in a medically induced coma. Valentine, who just a few days later
followed the men out to the States, is nowhere to be found. Roisin is worrying herself sick over her brother,
and McAvoy is motivated by the fact that Valentine had shown just enough boxing skills to attract Brishen’s interest.
The two detectives question and query and ruminate, endeavoring to untangle the riddles of Ayres' (and perhaps Valentine’s) ugly death. In this stark and unfamiliar landscape, everything has a mafia connection
and links back to the past. McAvoy is determined to find out where Shay was "sticking it,” either in the bars, at the local gym, or at St. Colman’s Church, where Reverend Father Jimmy Whelan befriended the Pugliesca family and where wealthy sacristan Peter Malony has made himself wealthy by living off the largesse of powerful friends. From his charity work, to his constant support of St. Coleman’s, to the different appeals he’s reportedly been involved in, Maloney’s strange collusions with the mob bosses have been tunneling back years.
From the Italian mob to a group of Chechen criminals, to a violent crime boss
called Claudio, out to seek revenge, Mark tunnels us back to a series of
“absolutions” where Father Whelan made a deal with the devil, and men like Sal Pugliesca needed to confess their sins. McAvoy wants to know what secrets existed between Pugliesca and Father Whelan. An intensely moral man, Whelan was rumored to have spent much of his life whispering into the ear of “low-life degenerates.” Aector’s head swims with connections
among Tony Blank, Sal and Paulie Pugliesca, Luca Savoca, and Peter Maloney. Trish orders McAvoy via Skype to tell Alto to “bring Malony in.”
With new concerns that a serial killer is on the loose, McAvoy’s investigation leads him to believe that Brishen and Shay witnessed Valentine’s brutal death. Perhaps the men stumbled onto something
that McAvoy and Alto are only just beginning to see.
I don’t normally care for mafia stories (which is why I was so impatient with this novel),
but I’ll always be a loyal fan of Mark’s series. And even though Cruel Mercy
lacks the solidity of his other works, I admire how the author builds on his
major theme: the guilty nature of suffering and how individuals attempt to atone
for so much pain and sin. Amidst his own anguish, McAvoy finds himself journeying through his own kind of hell, wary of relief and convinced that poor Valentine has met his fate either as a killer or as a corpse.