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  • Writer's pictureJudith D Collins

Small Mercies

Narrator: Robin Miles

Harper Audio

ISBN: 9780062129482

Publisher: Harper

Publication Date: 04/25/2023

Format: Other

My Rating: 5 Stars

“Small Mercies is thought provoking, engaging, enraging, and can’t-put-it-down entertainment.” — Stephen King

The acclaimed New York Times bestselling writer returns with a masterpiece to rival Mystic River—an all-consuming tale of revenge, family love, festering hate, and insidious power, set against one of the most tumultuous episodes in Boston’s history.

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—asking questions that bother Marty Butler, chieftain of the Irish mob, and the men who work for him, men who don’t take kindly to any threat to their business.

Set against the hot, tumultuous months when the city’s desegregation of its public schools exploded in violence, Small Mercies is a superb thriller, a brutal depiction of criminality and power, and an unflinching portrait of the dark heart of American racism. It is a mesmerizing and wrenching work that only Dennis Lehane could write.

My Review

The acclaimed author, Dennis Lehane, delivers his 14th novel, the highly anticipated SMALL MERCIES — Inspired by actual events, a gritty, raw, and compelling story of one neighborhood caught up in one of the most turbulent dark periods in Boston's history, exploring the 1974 court-ordered busing.

The protagonist, Mary Pat Fennessy, is a 42-year-old single mother living in South Boston's projects. When her daughter Jules fails to return home the same night a Black teenager is killed under mysterious circumstances, Mary Pat begins to make connections between the two events and, for the first time, questions her Irish American neighborhood's unwritten code, which she'd long adhered to.

The novel takes place during the hot summer months of 1974, leading to the first day of school in September when the city's desegregation of its public schools explodes in violence.

African American and white school swap set during the days of violence and racism. Those most affected lived in the lower-income, working-class neighborhoods of South Boston, Charlestown, Hyde Park, Roxbury, Mattapan, and Dorchester — highly segregated areas prone to racial violence.

Mary Pat Fennessy is the star of this well-written novel. She is a long-time Southie public housing resident and barely makes ends meet with the bills, even with two jobs. She is tough as a man. Rage and hate consume her, but her daughter, Jules, is the most important thing in her life.

Her 17-year-old daughter Jules has not returned from a recent night out. Ironically, the same night there was a horrific incident at the Columbia subway station; newspapers reported that some white teens chased a Black teen onto the tracks, resulting in his death.

Mary Pat (alcoholic, smoking, foul mouth) says she is not a racist. Her first husband died young. Her son, Noel, died of a drug overdose after returning from Vietnam. A second marriage unraveled. Her teenage daughter, Jules, is all she has left.

The Black teenager is the son of Dreamy Williamson, a fellow healthcare aide at the nursing home where Mary Pat works. Dreamy is one of the few Black people Mary Pat has direct contact with.

Mary Pat is tough as nails and does not take slack from anyone as she dives deep into her daughter's disappearance. There are the police investigating the subway crime and the local gang that runs Southie.

The ongoing Vietnam War impacts this community and the busing with the poor black and whites.

Mary Pat has been taught that the residents of Southie can count on only one another. But as her search for her daughter becomes increasingly desperate, she is met with silence from her community. She begins to question everything, especially the motivations of the local mobster Marty Butler and his crew, who claim to protect those in the neighborhood who pledge loyalty.

Mary Pat develops a friendship with Detective Bobby Coyne (investigating the subway crime) and hopes he can help find her daughter Jules since the Butler crew is of little help. Enjoyed the conversations between these two.

Ultimately, alone and with nothing left to lose, she is willing to fight anyone, confront anyone, even Butler himself, to uncover the truth. The take-no-prisoners hero of this novel is a mad, fired-up, middle-aged mom ready for battle.

Throughout the novel, real people and events make cameo appearances.

SMALL MERCIES is a powerful and critical novel that takes on one of the city's most turbulent moments.

A thought-provoking harrowing, riveting thriller blended with literary fiction—one of crime, complexities, hatred, racism, class, politics, and power. The author masterfully conveys how the past shapes the present.

In an author's note, Lehane recalls the night his father took a wrong turn driving his family home and ran into an anti-busing protest. Ted Kennedy and the judge who'd ordered the desegregation were being burned in effigy, and the furious crowd rocked the Lehanes' Chevy. "I'd never been so terrified in my life," Lehane writes.

Lehane tells the story of real people, embracing their failings and imperfections, offering a semblance of hope with a fitting title. I enjoyed the audiobook narrated by Robin Miles for an engaging performance and listening experience.

@JudithDCollins | #JDCMustReadBooks

Pub Date: April 25, 2023

My Rating: 5 Stars


"This taut, gripping mystery is also a novel of soul-searching, for the author and reader alike." — Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Small Mercies is thought-provoking, engaging, enraging, and can’t-put-it-down entertainment.” — Stephen King

“Small Mercies is a jaw-dropping thriller, set in the fury of Boston's 1974 school-desegregation crisis, and propelled by a hell-bent woman who's impossible to ignore. Thought-provoking and heart-thumping, it's a resonant, unflinching story written by a novelist who is simply one of the best around.”

— Gillian Flynn

“Without flinching, Dennis Lehane shines a lantern on a dark story, one the reader will not forget.” — James Lee Burke

"Dennis Lehane is a supernova and this is a novel that will throw your entire goddamn solar system out of alignment. Lehane has gone from strength to strength but never has he been more truthful, more heartbreaking, more essential. In the midst of our racial nightmare Small Mercies asks some of the only questions that matter: 'What’s gonna change? When’s it gonna change? Where’s it gonna change? How’s it gonna change?' This book is impossible to put down and its dark radiances will stay with you a long, long time.”

— Junot Díaz, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of This Is How You Lose Her

"Dennis Lehane peels back the layers of his characters like a sculptor finding the face of an angel in a block of stone. By a true master at the top of his game, Small Mercies is vintage Lehane. Beautiful, brutal, lyrical and blisteringly honest. Not to be missed."

— S.A. Cosby, bestselling author of Razorblade Tears and Blacktop Wasteland

“Beautiful. I was blown away by how Dennis Lehane was able to bring such a deeply unfamiliar world into my heart. Small Mercies is hilarious and heartbreaking, infuriating and unforgettable.”

— Jacqueline Woodson, National Book Award winning author

“You’ll be lucky if you read a more engaging novel this year.”

— The Times (London)

“Powerful, unforgettable…[a] remarkable novel about racism, violence, and parental vengeance.” — Library Journal (starred review)

"A complex, multidimensional tragedy of epic proportions . . . Lehane straddles the line between historical fiction and thriller as dexterously as anyone, and this is his best work so far.”

— Booklist (starred review)

". . . ambitious and multi-layered." — Financial Times (UK)

"Lehane is now well established as one of America's finest crime writers, who superbly blends uncompromising social history with uncompromising tales of what people driven to the limit will do. As ever, Small Mercies is populated with a wide-ranging collection of unforgettable people." — Reader’s Digest (UK)

". . . an old school, Southie mystery thriller that I think a lot of people are going to love to read.” —


— Tampa Bay Times

About the Author

Dennis Lehane grew up in Boston. Since his first novel, A Drink Before the War, won the Shamus Award, he has published twelve more novels that have been translated into more than 30 languages and become international bestsellers: Darkness, Take My Hand; Sacred; Gone, Baby, Gone; Prayers for Rain; Mystic River; Shutter Island; The Given Day; Moonlight Mile; Live by Night; and World Gone By. His most recent work is a stand-alone novel, Since We Fell.

Four of his novels – Live by Night, Mystic River, Gone, Baby, Gone, and Shutter Island – have been adapted into films. A fifth, The Drop, was adapted by Lehane himself into a film starring Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace, and James Gandolfini in his final role. Lehane was a staff writer on the acclaimed HBO series, The Wire, and also worked as a writer-producer on HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, Netflix‘s Bloodline, DirecTV’s Mr. Mercedes, and HBO’s upcoming series The Outsider.

Lehane was born and raised in Dorchester, Massachusetts. He and his family live in California.



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