‘Small Mercies’ by Dennis Lehane – Book Review

Hell Hath No Fury Like A Woman Scorned

Small Mercies is a tough read. It’s a book packed full of thought provoking themes, two engrossing mysteries and plenty of twists and turns that’ll keep you glued until the final, stomach-churning conclusion.

Set deep in the heart of Boston’s desegregation crisis in 1974, Small Mercies immediately feels like a hand grenade that’s had its pin pulled, ready to explode at any moment. Well, that explosion comes in two fronts, and it unfortunately blows up in the face of our protagonist, Mary Pat Fennessy.

Mary Pat has lived all her life as a “Southie”, a woman of Irish American descent. Eking out a living with her daughter Jules, Mary Pat struggles every day. Her gas has been turned off, she barely has enough money to make rent and her daughter is growing up fast.

When Jules suddenly goes missing one night, Mary Pat sets out on a mission to try and find her. Only, this seems to be linked to the death of a black man called Auggie Williamson, who has either been murdered or is part of an accidental death involving a train and numerous witnesses on the platform.

Mary Pat’s mission sees her tumbling head-first into a much larger situation which involves members of the Irish Mob, fronted an “untouchable King” by the name of Marty Butler. Despite all of this, Mary Pat is determined to discover the truth, regardless of what it might cost.

To reveal much more would be a disservice to this story, which remains an absolutely enthralling read across all 320 or so pages. The dialogue is fast-moving, with a lovely stylistic prose that swings between sharp, quick-fire dialogue across an entire page at a time, and long bouts of exposition to explain more of the world we’re thrown into.

The balance between the two states is really well developed, although one could argue the final third of this book does drag its heels a bit before delivering the explosive conclusion.

That’s a minor gripe though in what’s otherwise a very dark, disturbing and sobering book. Racism has been a hot topic in the entertainment space for a while now but Small Mercies is not a book that takes this subject lightly, instead using that as a tool and theme to tell a much bigger, character-driven story.

The characters themselves are well-defined, with a narrative that shifts back and forth between Mary Pat Fennessy and a detective by the name of Bobby. The latter isn’t quite as well defined as Mary Pat, who’s the real star of the show here, but the changed focus to a different point of view character does allow us to see the world from a slightly different viewpoint, which really benefits the narrative as a whole.

Ultimately, Small Mercies is a brilliant book. It’s a sobering, eye-opening look at racism but it’s also an utterly enthralling, must-read mystery too. There are numerous twists and turns along the way, and you’ll find yourself desperate to find out what happens next. When it comes to discussions about the best books of 2023, Small Mercies must surely be in contention.


Small Mercies releases on Tuesday 25th April 2023. Our thanks to Netgalley and Little Brown Book group for the advanced reader’s copy.

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  • Verdict - 9/10

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