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Mercy Kill

A Mystery

About The Book

Former Black Ops army sniper Mercy Gunderson isn’t adjusting well to the laid-back rhythm of civilian life on her family’s ranch in South Dakota. To fill her time, Mercy accepts a temporary bartending gig at a local watering hole. Yet her attempts to settle in back home are tested when Titan Oil, a Canadian company proposing to run an underground pipeline through Eagle River County, sends Jason Hawley, Mercy’s former army buddy, to the area to convince ranchers to get behind the project.

While local business owners support the pipeline, Hawley’s presence riles the landowners, and Mercy is torn. After ugly threats and multiple altercations escalate tensions in the county, Mercy discovers Hawley’s brutally mutilated body in the bar parking lot. When it appears Sheriff Dawson cares more about campaigning for reelection than investigating the case, Mercy vows to find Jason Hawley’s killer—even if she has to run against Dawson for sheriff to ensure justice is served.

But Mercy soon learns her former military pal had plenty of secrets. Her search for the truth brings unwanted exposure to the county’s dark side and risks deadly repercussions for the entire community.

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for Mercy Kill includes discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Lori Armstrong. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.


  1. In the first scene of the book, Mercy is faced with a decision of whether or not to kill a sick female mountain lion that she spots during target practice. Ultimately, she chooses not to  kill the animal. What does this decision tell you about Mercy? Why do you think the author decide to open the book with this scene?
  2. When Mercy is discussing her drinking with Rollie early on in the story, she refers to herself as “just another drunk Indian.” Were you surprised that Mercy thinks of herself in this way? What does Mercy’s comment indicate to the reader about her personality and the way that she views herself?
  3. Mercy does not like Kit McIntyre, but admits that since he spends so much money at Clementine’s, she can find a way to disregard her personal issues and make nice with him. Does this decision seem out of character for Mercy? Why or why not?
  4. Given how close they were and the fact that he had saved her life in the past, were you surprised by Mercy’s reaction upon finding J-Hawk’s body? Do you think that the way she reacts is a reflection of tough character and/or the influence of her Army background, or do you think that she is still in shock at this point in the novel?
  5. When Mercy is talking to John-John about her relationship with Dawson, she comments that she has a hard time “separating the man he is from the job he does.” Could the same thing be said about Mercy and how she views herself and her profession? Do you think that Mercy recognizes her similarities with Dawson or not?
  6. Do you think that Mercy compares herself to Anna? Does she compete with her or embrace the similarities between them?
  7. Despite the fact that she is the former sheriff’s daughter and her background in the Army, Mercy is not flattered when Kiki and Geneva approach her to run for sheriff. Why do you think that Mercy is reluctant to run when she is such a strong and qualified candidate for the job? 
  8. Is Mercy’s disappointment with Dawson’s police investigation into J-Hawk’s murder a reflection of her trust issues or a reflection of his capability as sheriff? Why doesn’t Mercy trust him to do his job even though she trusts him in other aspects of their relationship?
  9. Cherelle is a very interesting character in that her “flaws” allow the reader to discover a great deal about the surrounding characters, namely Mercy and Anna. How do Mercy and Anna relate to Cherelle? Can you relate to Cherelle at all and if so, how?
  10. Since Mercy is a strong woman who would not tolerate abuse like the kind that Cherelle suffers at the hands of Victor and Saro, what do you think explains Mercy’s reaction to Cherelle’s situation? Does Mercy have sympathy for her and her abusive home-life?
  11. During Mercy’s interaction with Saro and Victor in Stillwell’s, it seems imperative to Mercy that she not be intimidated or back down from the situation. Do you think that this was more important to her personally or do you think that she just didn’t want to look weak in front of friends, acquaintances and voters?  
  12. Why do you think the author chose to have Mercy actually take the final shots and kill Anna? What does Anna’s death symbolize? Do you see symmetry between this climactic scene and the opening scene when Mercy declines to shoot an injured mountain lion?
  13. By the end of the book, do you think that Mercy has changed, or do you think that she remains essentially the same person as she was at the beginning of the book?

  1. Read a brief article or essay about the history of the Native American reservations in the Dakotas prior to the book discussion. Several of the main characters are from the Lakota tribe, and reading about their culture in particular will provide better insight into the story. Here are some suggested articles and web sites:
  2. Discuss whether or not you have ever known any family or friends who have been part of ‘elite’ branches of the military (Special Forces, Green Berets, Navy Seals, etc.). If so, and if you’re comfortable talking about it, please explain what that experience was like for you and for your friends and/or family.
  3. Since much of the book revolves around nature and the outdoor elements, hold one of your discussions in a local park or, if possible, a nature reserve. This will give you unique insight as to how nature affects Lori Armstrong and her main character Mercy. Consider your relationship with nature and how it affects your day-to-day life.
  4. Learn about the author, Lori Armstrong by visiting her site here: and on the Simon & Schuster author page here:


This is your second time writing about Mercy Gunderson. Now that you’ve spent more time with Mercy, in what ways do you relate to her? 

It’s always a challenge, writing the second book in a series, because I know more about Mercy now than when I started, but in most cases her actions on the page surprise even me. I relate to her in that we both have a low tolerance for b.s., and she and I have the same taste in music. 

In what ways do you not relate to her? 

Mercy’s tendency to drown her troubles in alcohol is something I don’t relate to at all. Nor do I understand her inability to ask for help. But those types of characters fascinate me just for that reason, because we are so different.

Are any of the characters in the book based on people that you know?

No. I’m a self-admitted people watcher, so I’m constantly observing interactions and mannerisms and physical characteristics. And I will use pieces of what I’ve seen, be it hair or eye color, or a funky mannerism, or a certain way a person speaks or walks, or interacts with others. I’ve leaned a lot about human nature just by watching and listening. But I’ve never based any fictional character on anyone I know personally.

You address many social and racial issues surrounding the Native American culture in America in this book. Why did you choose to incorporate such themes in your writing? 

Because it’s such a huge part of our life in western South Dakota and to gloss over it would be a disservice to not only to all the people of my state, but to people who’ve never been to South Dakota, who only know about historical Indian “issues” from what they’ve read in textbooks, detailing things that happened more than 100+ years ago. I get asked a lot on book tours if I know any “real, live” Indians, and I honestly have to stop and think about what that means, because I think some people still think of western South Dakota as the untamed Wild West, where Indians ride horses, wearing elaborate headdresses, live in tipis and hunt buffalo. Although many Native Americans never stopped celebrating their culture, religion and traditions after being relegated to reservations, many hid their practice, or denied their heritage, in some cases—like Mercy—she knows little of her Indian heritage because her mother didn’t deem it important.

You live in South Dakota and have expressed in various interviews that you really wanted the setting of South Dakota to come through in your writing. Why did you choose to set Mercy’s story in South Dakota? 

I never considered setting the book anyplace else, and that’s not just because the research is easy, since it’s right outside my door. I’m a South Dakota girl and even if readers don’t see the beauty in the area the same way I do, I think it’s obvious I love where I live, and hopefully that’s what gives the books the authenticity I’m striving for.

Many of the male characters in Mercy’s life are kind, thoughtful and gentle (John-John, Jake, and Rollie) turning typical gender roles on their heads. Did you intend for these characters to serve as foils for Mercy?  

Yes, and no. Mercy is a tough as nails character, and it’s been a challenge to keep her from becoming a caricature. The loner who doesn’t need anyone, which always seems sadder, somehow, when it’s a female character. I didn’t intentionally set out to ground her with men who might be seen as soft, but I wanted her to interact with men she’d had history with, the best friend, the former lover, the father figure, all men who knew her and loved her in some form, before she became so hard and tough. All these men remind her of who she’s been—as well as who she can become.

What’s next for Mercy Gunderson?

I’m working on the third book, titled DARK MERCY, which will send Mercy in a new direction.

If MERCY KILL was made into a movie, who would play Mercy? 

I get this question frequently, so you’d think I’d have an answer…but I really don’t. I can tell you physically what Mercy looks like, but I hear her more than see her. On a purely gratuitous note, I’d love to see North Dakota native Josh Duhamel play Dawson.

Who are your favorite authors to read, mystery or otherwise?

I read widely across many genres, but my must have mystery/thriller authors are JD Robb, Robert Crais, CJ Box. 

Whose writing, if anyone’s, would you say has had an influence on your own style? 

Sue Grafton, Stephen King, Carolyn Keene and Laura Ingalls Wilder are the biggest influences, which is a pretty eclectic list! But whenever I think of books that’ve had the biggest long term impact, it’s always the first book I read from those authors that have stuck with me.

About The Author

Photograph by Russell Lloyd Jensen / Sage Studios

Lori Armstrong is the two-time winner of the Shamus Award given by the Private Eye Writers of America and a New York Times bestselling author of romantic fiction, written as Lorelei James. Her books have won the Willa Cather Literary Award and have been nominated for the High Plains Book Award and the Daphne du Maurier Award. She lives in western South Dakota. Visit her website at

Product Details

  • Publisher: Touchstone (January 11, 2011)
  • Length: 320 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781416590972

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Raves and Reviews

“With a gutsy heroine, sharp humor, and a strong sense of place, Armstrong has created a winning series. The female veteran perspective is particularly fresh—not unlike a young V.I. Warshawski gone rural. Craig Johnson and C.J. Box fans should like it, too. Highly recommended” —Library Journal (starred review)

“Another surprisingly twisted tale leads readers into a thicket of relative good and evil.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Sharp…an intriguing new character, FBI agent Shay Turnbull of the Indian County Special Crimes Unit, will leave readers eager to see how their relationship plays out in the next installment.” —Publishers Weekly

“This is a harsh tale filled with hard people but, like the South Dakota landscape, it’s compelling and difficult to walk away from without being changed.” —RT Magazine

“[A] tough-mouth novel…[readers] will enjoy Mercy—tough, funny, and hardly a girl in a guy suit.” —Booklist

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