South Dakota author Lori Armstrong has slowly been earning a name for herself. Some may consider her the female answer to the rural/western hardboiled authors who have been putting a new spin on the genre as of late. When you read her, you’ll discover she has her own distinctive voice and proves she can deliver anything as down and dirty and tough as any of the good ol’ boys with a pen.
In Blood Ties, she introduces her first heroine, Julie Collins, an apprentice PI and Bear Butte County Sheriff’s Department secretary, who is dealing with a dysfunctional family and love life. She’s forced to confront both when her mentor and would-be boyfriend, Kevin Wells, is hired to look into the past of a murdered girl. As the series continues, Julie gains a stronger sense of herself as she becomes a full fledged investigator. No matter how self assured and bad-ass she becomes, Armstrong never loses sight of the character’s vulnerability, femininity, and humor. She has a very telling and funny passage in Blood Ties where Collins has to question a bad boy suspect, fighting arousal as she gets information. Lori won her PWA Shamus Award with her fourth Collins book, Snow Blind.
She earned her second Shamus with No Mercy, the debut of her more hardened character, Mercy Gunderson. Mercy, a sniper in a secret all-female unit, returns to her family’s ranch after being sidelined. To protect her family and their land, she must return to her old skills. In some ways, the character is much more complex than Julie Collins, as she’s trying to learn how to take her armor off yet having to put it back on when her and her own are threatened. The second book, Mercy Kill, continues the great mix of thriller intrigue and western attitude and setting.
No matter which character she uses, Lori Armstrong creates an engaging world out of her South Dakota home. It’s rough and tumble country, where the weather determines fortune like a Greek God and the society is tight knit. It has macho gay bartenders, dangerous bikers, wild ranch hands, and Lakota Indians still fighting for dignity and survival. There is low humor and a high sense of honor. Traditions may be marginalized, but they are far from dead and land is something still worth fighting for and occasionally over. It’s a place where you need strong body and character and the women tend to have both in spades.