About the Book...

From acclaimed Canadian novelist Billie Livingston comes this powerful U.S. debut that unfolds over a riveting dual narrative—an unforgettable story of ordinary lives rocked by hardship and scandal that follows in the tradition of Jennifer Haigh, A. Manette Ansay, and Jennifer Egan.

Ben wakes up in a hospital with a hole in his head he can't explain. What he can remember he’d rather forget. Like how he’d spend nights as a limo driver for the wealthy and debauched….how he and his wife, Maggie, drifted apart in the wake of an unspeakable tragedy…how his little brother, Cola, got in over his head with loan sharks circling.

Maggie is alone. Again. With bills to pay and Ben in a psych ward, she must return to work. But who would hire her in the state she’s in? And just as Maggie turns to her brother, Francis, the Internet explodes with video of his latest escapade. The headline? Drunk Priest Propositions Cops.

Francis is an unlikely priest with a drinking problem and little interest in celibacy. A third DUI, a looming court date.…When Maggie takes him in, he knows he may be down to his last chance. And his best shot at healing might lie in helping Maggie and Ben reconnect—against all odds.

Simmering with dark humor and piercing insights, The Crooked Heart of Mercy is a startling reminder that redemption can be found in the most unlikely of places.


“Courageously renegade (and hilarious) ....The novel echoes with Flannery O’Connor, and Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory... The difference, however, is that Livingston’s take on faith is more compassionate than O’Connor’s and more lighthearted than Greene’s.... The Crooked Heart of Mercy is a gem. Much like a big sis who prepares a young’n for the harsh world, Livingston swiftly kicks the legs out from under you, then catches you in her arms.  — Washington Independent Review

“Livingston avoids cliché and caricature, and is able to investigate the necessity of belief in all its forms without descending into the didactic. She has a real knack for voice, bouncing back and forth... gracefully and believably. Further her light-handed investigation of religion and its place in our lives – especially in crisis – is wholly refreshing and open-hearted.”   — The Globe and Mail

“The Crooked Heart of Mercy ...It’s a very special book... lovely. Maybe the best book yet from an acclaimed and awarded writer.” —January Magazine

“In The Crooked Heart of Mercy, her stellar fourth novel... Livingston immediately sets up a pressing question: can these lost souls overcome their tragedy and, if so, how? Tender, quirky, and sporadically quite comic, her answer is fruitful as well as a delight to follow. Emotional but not sentimental and sharp without being cynical, the story maintains an impressive balance.” —Vancouver Sun

“Billie writes with empathy and humour. Her characters are witty and compelling. If you are needing some grace in your life, read The Crooked Heart of Mercy. — CBC’s Shelagh Rogers, 2016 Book Recommendation

“Livingston beautifully teases out the bitter humor needed to endure the long shadows of grief. These hearts heal with scar tissue.”    — Kirkus Reviews

“Livingston gives a clear-eyed account of flawed people facing their worst selves and their worst nightmares–and the depths they must plunge to before finally rising to the surface and breathing again. Crooked Heart is a nuanced exploration of grief and family loyalty, showing that a happy ending is one where getting through day after day may be the greatest success of all.” — Manhattan Book Review

“Jarring, poignant and laced with a brand of dark humour, the book turns the accidental death of a child into a meditation on grief and recovery. In Livingston’s searing story, recovery, tenuous as it often is, is hard-earned, a glimpse, with no guarantees, of the price to be paid for renewal…. full of surprises; its well-drawn characters, their close-to-the-edge dilemmas, the ways in which they seek an elusive recuperation, are sharply depicted.”

—London Free Press

“Although you will be deeply discomfited, you will also be amply rewarded....Most importantly, by taking often overused and amorphous terms such as ‘forgiveness’ and ‘spirituality’ and bringing them down to earth, Livingston allows Ben and Maggie to come to a stumbling understanding of what it means to survive day to day, transcend terrible trauma, and to eventually regain the capacity to give and receive love.  —Toronto Star

“Forgiveness – and the attendant notions of grace and mercy – are central to the novel, and to the author’s own attitude, which is steeped in empathy for fallen and fallible characters...This, beyond the laughter and the tears, is what seems to be motivating Livingston, both as an author and a human being: the sense of compassion that needs to endure if we are to survive the world’s depredations.” —Quill and Quire

“The Crooked Heart of Mercy is brave stuff featuring a trio of characters rarely seen or described so well as Ben, his wife Maggie and her drinkin’ brother, a priest named Francis... How each comes to deal (and heal) is the stuff of this indelible novel, one that lingers in the mind long after the last page is turned. It’s late January but I betcha that The Crooked Heart of Mercy will be there next fall when literary award time comes around again.”

—The Owen Sound Sun-Times

“Billie Livingston may be Canada's best-kept literary secret. Her books are consistently fascinating, witty, gut-wrenching reads and The Crooked Heart of Mercy just might be her best yet. It brings to life an unforgettable cast of characters... Don't miss it if: You've ever found comfort in the last person you expected.” —W Dish

“From award-winning Canadian novelist Livingston, this is a beautiful and insightful paean to the human spirit and how it can heal.”  — Booklist

“An intricate meditation on grief and forgiveness. . . . How individuals fail and succeed in their efforts to be caring remains Livingston’s enduring theme.” —The Georgia Straight

“Billie Livingston’s characters are riddled with flaws and anxieties, but their authenticity is appealing; so much so it’s hard not to like them...(her) knack for dialogue makes every encounter believable. —BC Bookworld

“The key to Billie Livingston's fiction is its potent emotional core. She always makes sure you can empathize with her characters, who are often troubled souls searching for personal connection or, in the case of her newest book, reconnection...Livingston brings these emotional crises to life, never resorting to clichés. . . .[D]iving into the author’s emotional vortex is a powerful experience..” — NOW (Toronto)

“The Crooked Heart of Mercy is a stirring meditation on faith, grief and the eternal human project of forgiving ourselves our sins. It grips the reader’s crooked heart and doesn't let go.”  

                —Lynn Coady, Scotiabank Giller Prize-winning author of Hellgoing

"Steeped in regret, and filled with longing, The Crooked Heart of Mercy is the poignant story of broken people trying desperately to be whole, lost somewhere between a prayer and a wish.

Raw and heartfelt. Remarkable.”

                —Will Ferguson,  Scotiabank Giller prize-winning author of 419 and Road Trip Rwanda

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