Absence of Mercy (Lightner and Law Mysteries)

Written by S. M. Goodwin
Review by Peggy Kurkowski

In this exciting debut of a new series, Goodwin introduces readers to Detective Inspector Jasper Lightner—a decorated Crimean War hero and one of the most skilled investigators with the London Metropolitan Police. He is also the black sheep of his family, earning the disdain and embarrassment of his father (the Duke of Kersey) for the media attention his cases muster and for the physical manifestations of his wartime head injury: a pronounced stutter and intermittent memory loss.

When the Duke’s political machinations to remove Jasper from the police force backfire, Jasper sets off, in the summer of 1857, for a year-long assignment in New York City to help train detectives of a dysfunctional police department. Immediately met with the case of murdered philanthropist and reformer Stephen Finch, Jasper is plunged deep into the reek of New York’s poorest and tawdriest tenements, so effectively depicted the reader almost chokes on the stench of despair. Navigating the enmity of his colleagues wishing his failure, as well as the lingering demons of addiction, Jasper joins forces with an unlikely ally when another man is murdered under similar circumstances. Disgraced detective Hieronymus Law, rumored to have helped frame an innocent woman for murder, is given a second chance to clear his name by helping Jasper solve the grisly series of slayings. This odd-couple duo of a stuttering English nobleman and his earnest, gangling compatriot is a delightful conceit that upends many a tired trope of detective fiction.

Absence of Mercy is an intricately plotted and smartly conceived mystery that delivers the goods. Populated with a cast of memorable characters every bit as diverse as one would imagine of mid-19th-century New York City, Goodwin touchingly depicts the seamier side of surviving. Readers will eagerly await the return of Jasper and Hy Law.