Rain Falls Like Mercy

Written by Jack Todd
Review by Cecelia Holland

Rain Falls Like Mercy, the third book in Jack Todd’s western trilogy after Sun Going Down and Come Again No More, actually seems like two stories pasted together. A good deal of the book springs from the trilogy, the story of the Paint family of Wyoming, and their experience of the Second World War; the rest follows the career of a maniac murderer only tangentially related to the Paints.

This begins well enough, reminding me of No Country for Old Men, with more sex and without the metaphysical angst. A Wyoming lawman, Tom Call, pursues the killer of a young girl, gathering clues and suspicions. Details of ranch life and the wild country are neatly displayed, and the writing is spare, rhythmic, evocative.

Then the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor. Characters from the earlier books are now in harm’s way, and Tom Call enlists in the Air Force. World War II zips by, too quickly for real drama, and the story loses its tension and crispness. When the plot snaps back to the murderer, it’s all body fluids, gore and mean people. Todd may have wanted to contrast the world-shaking violence of the war with the mindless nastiness of his murderer, but he rips through the war scenes so fast they seem to have no weight, while the murderer is almost comically grotesque. This is the kind of book that can make you feel that the human race is doomed, and that you don’t much care.