Mark of Cain was a very compelling read for me. The struggles that both Lucas and Mark faced throughout the book were emotionally intense and I enjoyed how Ms. Sherwood took care in illustrating the different challenges that were faced as their relationship changed over the course of the story. Both men faced individual personal issues upon Lucas’s release from prison. For Mark, the brother of the man that Lucas killed, there was a huge sense of injustice as Lucas had only served three years of his sentence – a sentence the family felt was woefully short due to his pleading down to manslaughter. For Lucas, he had to learn to survive in a world that pretended to offer him more freedom than being in prison did, yet had just as many restrictions and more dangers than what he faced in prison. Their situation was complicated by the fact that when Lucas is released, he returns to his hometown which is far too small for either to have any hope of avoiding each other very long.
As fate would have it, their first encounter would occur less than 24 hours after Lucas’s release. While Lucas does not see Mark (nor would he have recognized him if he had), Mark does see Lucas… sitting in a bar… celebrating his release… with a beer in one hand and a girl in the other. Understandably, the injustice of Mark seeing his brother’s killer “living large” while his brother is not, incenses Mark. Rather than lashing out, Mark calls in the suspected parole violation and the series of events that follow are realistic, frustrating, controversial, and serve to highlight just how little control Lucas actually has over his life. When Lucas is thrust into Mark’s path – repeatedly – Mark is forced to tolerate Lucas. As he has the opportunity to observe Lucas, work with him, and get to know him, Mark revises his opinion of Lucas and gradually Lucas goes from being the object of Mark’s hate, to becoming an ally, a friend, and eventually, a lover. While this may seem like a rather straightforward plot, the fact that they are linked by the death of Mark’s brother prevents it from being so. Their journey is fraught with so many reasons why they should not be together – both internal and external reasons – that I found myself tearing up more than once as they dealt with blow after blow (as individuals and as a couple). I just have to say, thank goodness for Alex or the book could have gone off in an entirely different direction.
Ms. Sherwood’s talent lies with her ability to make me feel morally outraged on the behalf of both Lucas and Mark, while feeling sympathetic to each man’s plight. Did Lucas do wrong? Without question. But because he accepts responsibility for his actions and expresses extreme remorse for not only the death of the another, but for how that death impacted the man’s family, it is hard not to being to root for Lucas as he tries to find his place in the world he now lives in. Especially when he keeps getting knocked back down. While it is the sins of the past that Lucas is dealing with, it is the sins of the present that Mark must answer for. I actually liked that Mark’s personal feelings impacted his interactions regarding Lucas so thoroughly in the beginning. It added a level of fallibility to his character that could have easily been negated by his being a priest. I appreciated that the author worked into the storyline more than once, the fact that Mark was an Anglican priest, not Catholic, and the differences between the two. Because of their different situations, both Mark and Lucas were given the opportunity to show how much the other had come to mean them and both did so spectacularly. I found myself sucked right in the story and read the book in one sitting. I absolutely loved Mark of Cain and look forward to reading more of Ms. Sherwood’s writing.