Assistant District Attorney Alexandra Cooper's latest case involves the headless body of a woman, which has been set on fire on the front steps of a church. This is followed by another woman, whose throat has been slit and her tongue cut out, also left at a church. Alex teams up with homicide detective Mike Chapman and Special Victims detective Mercer Wallace, and their investigation soon leads them to suspect that the killer is targeting religious "pariahs". In particular, strong women who challenge religion's established views. For example - women not being allowed to be priests.
The group must figure out the link between the victims so that they can anticipate who might be the killer's next target - in between a lot of dry New York history and Mike Chapman acting like a chauvinistic jerk, of course.
Fairstein's thrillers are finely-tuned machines, and "Silent Mercy" is no exception. After a slow start, this one settles into gear and is quite diverting. The frequent forays into Alex's other cases has been toned down somewhat, and the focus is kept on the central mystery. And, despite my earlier jibe about dry New York history, Fairstein has also toned down this aspect too. Yes, there is plenty of time devoted to explaining the history behind various New York churches and their respective religions, but it thankfully doesn't get too heavy-handed.
Unfortunately, no headway has been made with the character of Mike Chapman. Seriously, what an oaf. Does anybody outside of the 1950s call women "broads" anymore? Come on! He remains a borderline misogynist and is a real pain in the ass. Even after twelve books (this is number thirteen), I still can't understand why a supposedly educated feminist lawyer such as Alexandra Cooper puts up with his bullshit. Why can't she team up with Mercer for her investigations? He's portrayed as a solid, intelligent and likeable guy but continues to be sorely underutilised in this series.
My other issue here is that, more than any other book, I couldn't quite figure out why Alex was so involved in the investigation. In other novels, there are usually more personal politics at play in the mysteries, which justifies her presence, as the culprit is typically one of the peripheral characters. This time we've almost got a straight-forward serial killer thriller and the murderer is an unknown quantity. I just didn't see why a DA would be dragged around - or even be allowed to.
Nevertheless, "Silent Mercy" manages to ratchet up the excitement in its home-stretch. The island-bound finale is far-fetched and borders on campy, but had me stealing some illicit extra minutes at work in an effort to finish.