Lisa Jackson, “Without Mercy”

The relationship between older and younger sisters can be boiled down to one dynamic: protectiveness. Regardless of the tension between sisters, when one is threatened, the other (usually the older) can be counted on to defend and protect. Jules Farantino, though she’s not close to her younger sister, feels the need to step in for her, to guard her from people who might hurt her. Whether or not her sister is deserving of that shielding is irrelevant. Nothing can break the bond between sisters. Except, perhaps, murder.

Plot Overview: Deception, Fanaticism and Love

Jules is a woman with a great deal of emotional issues: her father was killed, and the one great love of her life, Cooper Trent, broke up with her a few years ago. She is unable to keep a job due to her nightmares, so she lives alone with her cat. Although Jules has tried to stay close with her mother and sister, Shaylee, they tend to keep her at arm’s length. When Shaylee is sent away, however, Jules is the one person who listens to her pleas for help.

Blue Rock Academy is meant to be a tough-love haven for teens with troubles, but the refuge aspect of the institution is, in reality, much closer to a prison. Tobias Lynch, the reverend and head of the school, is a sinister fanatic, and the teens are sociopathic and suicidal. No one is safe there, particularly after the creation of an underground militant group.

When Jules goes undercover as a teacher at the school, she not only stumbles across the disturbing aspects of Blue Rock Academy, but she also encounters her lost love: Cooper. A detective, Cooper is also undercover. Together, the two work to unearth the secrets of the sinister school, and in the midst of danger, they begin to rekindle their romance. They could have a beautiful future – if they can survive.

Criticisms and Compliments

Like any good thriller, Jackson blends love and lust with murder. The sexual tension between Cooper and Jules helps push the plot along, and it is satisfying to see the two finally come together. This page-turner also hinges on Jules – a deeply flawed character – and her ability to come to grips with reality. Once she is able to overcome her emotional hang-ups, she can take an honest, if harsh look at the people around her. With Cooper at her side, Jules has all the tools she needs to find the murderer.

While the dynamic between Cooper and Jules is intriguing, Jackson is really at the top of her game with the cliffhanger ending. Her other novels, most of which revolve around Our Lady of Virtues Mental Hospital (Absolute Fear, Shiver), don’t have such a surprising climax, making Without Mercy one of, if not the best of Jackson’s campy thrillers.

Without Mercy might combine several elements of the creepy and disturbing, but the ending is what makes this novel worth reading – over and over again.


  • Jackson, Lisa. Without Mercy. Kensington, 2010 ISBN 9780758225641