In the summer of 1974 a heatwave blankets Boston and Mary Pat Fennessy is trying to stay one step ahead of the bill collectors. Mary Pat has lived her entire life in the housing projects of "Southie," the Irish American enclave that stubbornly adheres to old tradition and stands proudly apart. One night Mary Pat's teenage daughter Jules stays out late and doesn't come home. That same evening, a young Black man is found dead, struck by a subway train under mysterious circumstances. The two events seem unconnected. But Mary Pat, propelled by a desperate search for her missing daughter, begins turning over stones best left untouched.
Land[s] like a fist to the solar plexus ... Full of booby traps, but the metaphorical kind that blow up futures instead of limbs: negligent parents, busted marriages, dead-end jobs, booze, poverty, violence, resentment, and misdirected hate ... The stakes with a series detective are by necessity low. But in a stand-alone crime novel like Small Mercies all bets are off ... Lehane has always captured this tetchy, volatile mixture of working-class pride and shame with an expertise born of firsthand experience ... Lehane’s historical pop-culture references are impeccable.
Excellent and unflinching ... The book has all the hallmarks of Lehane at his best: a propulsive plot, a perfectly drawn cast of working-class Boston Irish characters, razor-sharp wit and a pervasive darkness through which occasional glimmers of hope peek out like snowdrops in early spring ... There is a tendency on the part of some contemporary authors to exempt their main characters from the prejudices of time and place, to make them more enlightened than they likely would have been. Lehane resists this ... Lehane masterfully conveys how the past shapes the present, lingering even after the players are gone.
Coyne is a classic Lehane detective: damaged by Vietnam, damaged by drugs, damaged by love. Where a lesser writer might make Coyne into a cliché, Lehane imbues him with an unlikely humanity, a sense of hope that a better world exists ... It would be a shame if Small Mercies was indeed Lehane’s final novel ... If it really is, it’s a worthy coda to a literary career built on cramped streets filled with unreliable women and men, each trying to find balance in a world of cops and criminals and a town in which you can’t always tell them apart.