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Book cover art by Daniel Dos Santos (left).
Review © 2009 by Thomas M. Wagner.
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[Mild spoilers.]

Iron Kissed, the third Mercy Thompson novel, left such a nasty taste in my mouth that it was with more wariness than enthusiasm that I began the fourth. With Bone Crossed, Ace has taken a look at Patricia Briggs' soaring sales and finally decided she rates a hardcover. Opening literally right as the previous novel ends — the first few pages of this one overlap the last few of Iron — it throws Mercy right into another heap of trouble without giving the poor girl a moment to breathe. Maybe it's time for her to just pack up and move. Or at the very least, stop saying yes when all of her vampire, werewolf, or fae friends show up at the door asking a favor.

This last point cannot be understated. By allowing her heroine to get raped at the climax of Iron Kissed, Briggs has potentially painted herself into a corner, in that there is very little reason, from a standpoint of pure storytelling logic, for the Mercy Thompson series to continue at all. Consider that Mercy's two previous adventures have been instigated by one of her friends in the supernatural community — vampire Stefan in Blood Bound, fae Zee in Iron Kissed — coming to her to ask if she might help them in some capacity with a problem. If this ever happens again, there is no sane reason whatsoever for her to reply to such a request by saying anything but the following: "Thanks, but no thanks. I'm an auto mechanic. The last time I let myself get dragged into somebody else's problems and investigate things that really weren't any of my concern anyway, I got fucking raped. So I'm done. Go solve your own supernatural crisis and leave me out of it." (Door slamming noise.)

Do I have to mention the story isn't big on sane reasons? In Bone Crossed, Mercy's way of dealing with her latest major crisis — to wit, that vampiress Marsilia has discovered it was Mercy who spoiled her plans at the end of Blood Bound, and is a little upset, which does not make a vampiress good company — is to take a little trip to Spokane to assist Amber, her old college roommate, and Amber's deaf son with a poltergeist problem.

Good grief. Mercy is now officially the mate of a werewolf pack leader who happens to be a rich and successful businessman with not inconsiderable political influence. Why Spokane, and why give a shit about someone's haunted house? If you want to get away from a vengeful vampiress, let alone all the roiling leftover emotions of your rape ordeal, why stay anywhere near home? Why not go to the town in Italy where Marsilia was exiled from in the first place? Or jeez, London? Paris? Sydney? Timbuktu? Why keep living in a trailer in a tiny Washington town, where everybody knows who you are and won't leave you alone?

Oh, right. It's because you've been declared the property of an alpha werewolf, and he won't let you go anywhere. Briggs tries to backpedal a bit on the unrelentingly possessive and violent male sexuality themes that have pervaded the series so far, coming to a head in Iron Kissed. It's still a little hard to buy the kinder-gentler Adam, what with the mixed messages he keeps sending: "I won't force you...but I won't let you leave either..." Briggs at least sensitively deals with the emotional turmoil — the flashbacks and panic attacks — of overcoming rape trauma, but the tenderness with which Adam cares for Mercy is still somewhat undercut by Mercy's lack of choice in the matter.

Mercy is initially skeptical about Amber's plight. After all, she hasn't seen the girl in years, and all at once she's turned up on Mercy's stoop asking for ghost hunting help. Could she be a lure by Marsilia to get Mercy away from Adam's pack and kill her?

As it happens, the ghost is the least of her problems. The real problem is Spokane's resident vampire, Blackwood. Amber is the trophy wife of a prominent lawyer, and Blackwood has been feeding off her (but not the boy) for some time. When Mercy turns up, prompting a surge in the ghost's activity, Blackwood sneaks a few nighttime meals out of her bloodstream as well. In the Mercyverse, people aren't automatically turned into vampires just by being bitten, but exsanguination can cause a person to be bound to the vampire who's fed off them. So to protect herself, Mercy lets her vamp friend Stefan run interference by exchanging blood. Then it's back to the Tri-Cities, where Adam is working on a truce with Marsilia to prevent all-out war. Mercy now has two concerns: how to save Amber and her son from Blackwood, and somehow pacify Marsilia.

I'll allow that the storytelling has the same chops as the earlier books. Briggs' fans, who don't seem to be bothered by the elements in the series I've found so troubling (assuming they've even noticed them), won't be disappointed by the craft she brings to this one, which is basically on a par with the others.

But you know, given all that's happened to Mercy recently, when this book got to the scene where she's tasered, tied up, thrown in the trunk of a car, and later wakes up in the villain's house wearing only her panties...well, Jesus. The horrible act isn't repeated, thank goodness. But I still felt like Briggs had gone beyond the proverbial "enough is enough," and possibly begun violating the Geneva convention or something. Mercy Thompson is one coyote girl who desperately needs an extended vacation from her own series. Come to think of it, so do I.

Followed by Silver Borne.