A serial killer and rapist have teamed up, in which the rapist gets to have his way with the female victim first, before handing her over to the serial killer, who murders her and then goes through the process of stripping the flesh from the bones.
The bones of aspiring actress Sierra Day are left for detectives Deacon Garrison and Malcolm Kier to discover. Although there are a few people out there with motives, the prime suspect turns out to be Dr. James Dixon, who has recently escaped being convicted of the attempted murder of Lulu Sweet, who is now a reformed prostitute and trying to reclaim custody of her young son.
The case soon involves Dixon's lawyer Angie Carlson, who managed to help get him off, but otherwise wants nothing to do with him, as she thinks there's something funny about him. Malcolm is a complete asshole to Angie, but that seems to peak her interest. In any case, they must work together after Lulu goes missing, and start digging into Angie's past to find what her connection to the killer/s is.
The book cover is decent enough to tell you that "Merciless" is a sequel to "Senseless". At first I thought this was because it featured characters from the previous novel, but like most romantic suspense novels, would veer off on its own course. Not so here. "Merciless" is indeed quite strongly linked to the previous novel, and while you could probably read it as a stand-alone, it is recommended that you read "Senseless" first.
I thought "Senseless" was a pretty decent thriller, and "Merciless" is even better. The plot was intricate and exciting. For the most part, the characters were well-defined and interesting. It was good to see Angie at the forefront. She's smart and capable, and less irritating than Eva Rayburn, who was the heroine of the previous novel. Not that Eva was a horrible character, but Angie had smidgeon less anguish, and less of a chip on her shoulder.
I didn't like Malcolm all that much. You really don't learn much about him and he fails to come alive. He's a detective and he's a complete asshole to Angie. That's mostly it. After 75% of the novel spent being a dick to Angie, his turnaround to grudging respect and then desire and love for her, is not very credible. It seems more of a case of throwing a central romance into the narrative so it could be classified as romantic suspense and not turn off Burton's fan-base. Otherwise, "Merciless" is a fast-paced entertaining thriller that should please readers whether they like romantic suspense or not. So while the romantic aspect doesn't take away from the novel, it fails to add anything to it, either. There's no obstacle to keep them apart other than the fact Malcolm is skilled in the art of douchery.
While I appreciated that the plot tied in closely with events in the first novel, it was also something of a drawback. The plot was going in one direction, and then the links to the past suddenly came into play about halfway through. All things considered, I didn't understand why Angie was a target. I would have thought the killer/s would have been after Eva. Here, Eva is relegated to fetching food for the other characters when they visit the restaurant she works at.
Nevertheless, "Merciless" is the work of a writer who deserves to take her place with the big names. If Mary Burton ever gets brave enough to abandon the romantic suspense formula and template, she could really deliver something special. "Merciless" was engaging and suspenseful.