Mercy Row: A Philadelphia Story by Harry Hallman (BookBaby, 2013, 176pp.)
Mercy Row is a dark, gritty story set in Depression-era Philadelphia. Focusing on the bloody battles waged between the powerful Byrne family of North Philly and the Italian mafia of South Philly, Hallman’s novella is not for the faint of heart. Its opening scene is one example why: Franklin Garrett, the building supervisor for Byrne Construction, is seen rescuing his boss’s teenage son, Jacob, from the lascivious clutches of another inmate in the holding tank of a jail. While this happens to be the story’s only scene of attempted sexual assault, there’s still plenty of blood and flying bullets, and the body count is rather high. Aside from the gore, though, the first half of the story is actually quite engaging. Out of Garrett’s act of kindness, a partnership is formed between himself and the boss’s ambitious heir apparent. The two get their own gang together to eliminate the Italian competition from Philadelphia and build a new empire. While the two aren’t the most well-rounded of characters, they are still sympathetic enough to make you care about what happens to them. Unfortunately, when the story hits the halfway mark, things start to go downhill. Even though ten years have passed since the first half of the novella, the author glosses over this entire period by simply summarizing events for us in a few paragraphs. The pacing starts to lag, and the author steers the story towards ground already covered by Puzo’s The Godfather.
Ultimately, Mercy Row will disappoint some readers. Although the story has sympathetic characters doing interesting things, much of the material remains underdeveloped, and makes the story feel more like a rough draft than a finished product.