Fatal Frost, by Nancy Mehl
[Note: This book was given free of charge by Baker Publishing. All thoughts and opinions are my own.]
Whether or not you like this novel depends a lot on the sort of expectations and standards you bring to this book. If you like competent genre fiction, in this case a police procedural with a hint of mystery and strong elements of divine providence, you will likely find this an enjoyable enough page turner. If you do not like your federal marshals to be people struggling with their commitments to God and family and career, or you are looking for a more literary work, this work will likely not be as enjoyable. In saying that this work is competent, it is important to note that the writing is acceptable and passable as a genre work, but not the sort of prose that is filled with great poetry or a multiplicity of layers and ambiguity and irony. If your standards going into the work are that you want a winter-themed opening volume to a series that introduces you to likeable and imperfect characters but which does not tax one with too much depth, you are likely the ideal audience for this book, and should probably check it out as part of your winter reading.
This particular novel, like many others of its genre and subgenre , features a strong emphasis on the active role of belief and faith in the lives of its characters. Some of the characters in this novel are believers in various stages of conversion and sanctification, and other believers are struggling with different understandings of God that come from different sources, and many come from broken homes and a background of poverty, from which they have climbed through divine providence and their own effort, something that many readers ought to be able to relate to. That said, despite the fact that this novel does have some strong elements of faith and a climax that may be considered to have been providential and perhaps even shading into the miraculous, the book is not character driven so much as it is plot driven. There are a lot of characters who die rather abruptly, and in such a fashion that they perish before they are fleshed out, and this includes the death of Mercy Brennan’s cop father, whose behavior in putting her unwittingly in danger drives the plot of this story along. The plot is both immensely simple and also convoluted, in that there are moles among the federal marshals, a concern about Mercy’s PTSD and her abilities to handle the rigors of her dangerous work, a trick that Mercy’s boss pulls with the support of her ex-partner (in multiple ways) Mark to try to spirit Mercy off to safety that goes horribly awry, and a complicated and multi-stage shootout at the most unsafe safe house ever between Mercy and her allies and a motley crew of baddies and not-so-baddies working for St. Louis gangs or Los Angeles-based Mexican drug cartels. Since this is the first novel of an intended series, it should not be a spoiler that most of the characters we care most about survive (although not all of them), or that there is a clear romantic undercurrent in this work that will likely only increase in future volumes.
For those who want to find fault with this novel, there is much to find fault with. The characters speak in clichés, the betrayals that mark this book are so frequent as to leave the reader in some doubt about loyalty and trust in ways that hinder our ability to truly have faith in the author being able to pull off her checklist of wants from the book, and some of the people in this story, including Mercy and Mark themselves, often seem to act in ways that are extremely foolish or overly dependent on intuition or suspicion. At its heart, though, if you care about Mercy and can identify with her, you will probably like this novel. Mercy is a tough woman from a bad background of a broken family that struggled with various addictions and mental illness, and she herself is recovering from injury and seems to have a bit of PTSD. Throughout the book she goes through the emotional and physical wringer and shows herself to be someone who has a hard time allowing others to get close, which is noted upon several times by herself and by others. Yet although the materials are here for a promising character, we don’t tend to see inside of her as much as we might want, largely because the prose of this book deals with psychological or interior realities in a remarkably ham-fisted way, without a great deal of subtlety or nuance. Yet if you are going to care about how this novel proceeds, it will likely be through identification with Mercy or her two closest associates Mark and Tully, all of whom show a great deal of longsuffering and persistence in dealing with the threat of death and torture.
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