Small Mercies by Dennis Lehane

Oh, this was an exciting, gritty read. So much better than all that romantic sop I seem to have been reading previously. This is a violent story set in the Irish American neighbourhood called Southie and we get it all: poverty, violence, loss, grief, drugs and racism. Lots of racism as befits the times when it was set, 1974.

The story takes place with white and black children about to be bussed to each others schools for desegregation and the Irish Americans are not happy, seeing their culture and way of life being eroded and feel that they need to fight to maintain it. It is, after all, all that they have alongside anger, rage and hate.

Mary-Pat’s son was lost to drugs and her daughter is now dead and buried under concrete and all Mary-Pat has left is the fight in her. And she has a lot of that. She speaks to the police who can’t get people to speak about the crimes so she does it. She utilises her brutality, love of a fight, and starts to pick off the gant members that are supposed to be protecting the community. The only thing is, they aren’t really protecting anyone other than their money supply.

There is no redemption in this book although it comes close. Mary-Pat has to face an angry black father whose son was killed ultimately by her daughter and realises that it is fear that drives the hate not knowledge or first-hand experience. Calliope, who loses her son, realises that life is fucking unfair – her son being killed because his car broke down the wrong side of the line which divides the communities and everyone thinking that he was a drug dealer with a deal that had gone wrong.

It is a book that shows us that although colour has a place in the problems of society, poverty affects all, everyone wants to think they are better than someone and no one wins. Mary-Pat gave it her all.

It’s the first time I have read a thriller where the hero is a middle-aged Mum taking revenge on the death of her son and daughter. Wonderful.

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