Stella Hardesty is the owner of Hardesty Sewing Machine Repair & Sales in Prosper, Missouri. Having killed her abusive husband Ollie with a wrench, she is also the dispenser of vigilante justice. Her sister, Grace Papadakis, begs her to travel to Smythe, Wisconsin and rescue her stepson Chip who is being held for ransom. Someone has mailed Chip's ear to his family, demanding $30,000. When Stella arrives at Chip's home, she discovers Chip and his Russian girlfriend, Natalya Markovic, dismembering the corpse of Natalya's abusive husband, Benton Parch, on the kitchen table. They claim to have found his corpse on the front porch. When Stella investigates the murder, she encounters vicious drug dealers, a medical student performing illegal cosmetic surgery, and middle-age nerds who have invented state-of-the-art undergarments for men.
After reading Sophie Littlefield's "Bad Day" novels, I will never abuse a female for fear that someone like Stella Hardesty will give me an old-fashioned ass wupin'. Littlefield has ingeniously tapped into an unexplored genre of crime drama. Except for a few films, such as "The Innocent One," starring the iconic Jodie Foster, there are scarcely any forms of fiction depicting vigilante women. Many of us live vicariously through Stella because we have been abused and bullied at one time by a spouse, boss, peer, etc.; dispensing vigilante justice is something many of us can only fantasize about doing. Littlefield's latest mystery, "A Bad Day for Mercy," like those before it, is both humorous and violent, too violent and gory to be considered cozies, even though they have a bucolic, picturesque setting. Prosper, Missouri makes me homesick for my hometown of Maryville, Tennessee, home of the Rebels.
Two characters in "A Bad Day for Mercy" are given a lot of attention: fourteen-year-old Todd and seventeen-year-old Luka. Todd is Stella's neighbor's son who is a stowaway. Upon arriving in Smythe, Stella finds him hiding in the truck she borrowed from B. J. Brodersen. Luka is Natalya's son. Both boys have absentee fathers. Even the grown Chip is not close to his father Chess. Stella does her best to bring them all closer to their biological father or a father figure. She is constantly stressing the importance of family. She, herself, has grown closer to her daughter Noelle. Stella looks upon Todd as a member of her family; she is his surrogate mother when his biological one, Sherilee Groffe, is working. Stella has to rescue Todd from a bad situation.
The horror of growing old is also explored profusely in this novel. Stella is really not looking forward to her fifty-first birthday. In my opinion, the real reason she is training for the Bean Blossom Half Marathon is to stave off old age. She compares herself to her younger training partner, Camellia Edwards. She wears a lot of makeup and special slimming undergarments, Spanx, that make her look thinner. She can sympathize with the nerdy, middle-aged Benton Parch and Topher Manetta who patented their creation of ManTees, which are suppose to make men appear thinner and, therefore, attract younger women. Aging and losing one's older relatives depresses Stella but she counts her blessings. After all, she has two very eligible bachelors vying for her romantic attentions: Sheriff Goat Jones and bar owner B. J. Brodersen.
Stella often finds herself trying to justify her vigilante actions by comparing herself to our flawed justice system. Furthermore, she attempts to explain, and gives valid reasons why, women don't leave their abusive husbands. If they are like me, they're hoping an abusive situation will get better. Also, seeking legal help is expensive; I can almost buy a month's worth of gas for my eleven-year-old Saturn for what lawyers charge for one hour of their services. Littlefield's Stella does provide a harmless way for women to innocently vent their frustrations; I only hope they don't take the law into their own hands when dealing with abusive men.
I read "A Bad Day for Mercy" in a single day; I couldn't put it down. It is highly recommended for women (and some men) who enjoy unique mysteries that swerve toward the violent (and gory) side of the road; have a strong, feisty heroine who faces the same everyday routine (i.e., working, parenting, housekeeping, grocery shopping, etc.) that they do; and are permeated with witty, wise-cracking humor, tenderhearted romance and family togetherness. I was hooked when I began reading the award-winning series with the third installment, "A Bad Day for Scandal" (A Bad Day for Scandal: A Crime Novel). It will definitely be a bad day for me if Sophie Littlefield doesn't continue publishing more adventures of Stella Hardesty.
Joseph B. Hoyos