In the Guise of Mercy
A Maggie MacGowen Mystery by Wendy Hornsby
Review: After an absence of 12 years, Maggie MacGowen returns to film a documentary with a very personal connection in In the Guise of Mercy, the sixth mystery in this series by Wendy Hornsby.
Monday began as an ordinary day, but it became anything but for Maggie. Suffering from a brain cancer and determined not to let it eat at him any longer, Maggie's husband, ex-cop Mike Flint, kills himself. In a final message to Maggie, he asks that she document the one open case that has dogged him since he left the LAPD. About a decade earlier, a teenage boy named Jesus Ramon got out of the backseat of Mike's official car at high noon in downtown Los Angeles, and was never seen again. "Go back to the beginning and walk it down," Mike wrote. "And be careful who you trust. Watch six, Maggie. There are people who won't want anyone opening this up again." Maggie's not sure she can learn anything new about the case, but believes she has to try, as a tribute to her late husband.
As an investigative documentary filmmaker, Maggie proposes to use her profession as a means of accomplishing her task. After presenting her overview to Lana, her producer, she asks if Maggie will have it all figured out by the scheduled air date. "Maybe not all of it, maybe none of it. That isn't the point, is it? We're going to look at two cultures in the city, law enforcement and street criminals. Minimally, we'll explain some of the complexities of that relationship. Maximally, we'll find Jesus." And this is really what In the Guise of Mercy is all about. It is a behind-the-scenes look at the making of a documentary. The story is at times riveting, the revelations surprising. Cops and criminals using each other as a means of advancing their own agendas is the primary theme here (Jesus was, in fact, a snitch for Mike), but the author (through Maggie) studies the nuances, results and outcomes of these partnerships. It's quite well done, and an interesting variation on a cold case investigation.
Of special note here is the author's style of writing. Here's a passage from early in the book that illustrates the elegance that imbues much of the narrative:
After Jesus got into Mike's car, myth and fact became so muddied by speculation, obfuscation, personal agenda and moral attitude that Jesus, the actual boy, a missing child, was forgotten. Out of the inevitable distortions that came from the endless telling and retelling of events imperfectly known, in his absence Jesus Ramon emerged as a sort of mythic giant, a symbol for something far larger than anyone who was present on Alvarado Avenue that January day could ever have imagined. His disappearance became a ten-ton gorilla on the back of the Los Angeles Police Department, and on Mike Flint's heart.
Finally, the title merits mention. It comes from a netsuke called Malice in the Guise of the Goddess of Mercy, a rendition of Kuan Jin, the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy, from whose robes peeked out the hideous face of Malice. It's an interesting, and most appropriate, title for this terrific novel.
Acknowledgment: Perseverance Press provided an ARC of In the Guise of Mercy for this review.
Review Copyright © 2009 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved
Selected reviews of other mysteries by this author …
The Paramour's Daughter
Perseverance Press (Trade Paperback), September 2010
ISBN-13: 9781564744968; ISBN-10: 1564744965
Location(s) referenced in In the Guise of Mercy: Los Angeles, California
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In the Guise of Mercy by Wendy Hornsby — A Maggie MacGowen Mystery
Publisher: Perseverance Press
Format: Trade Paperback
Publication Date: September 2009
List Price: $14.95