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Mark Anthony Powers
Breath and Mercy

Adult; General Fiction (including literary and historical)

Life was supposed to get better for Phineas Mann in 1983. After the rigors of medical school, residency, and fellowship training, he lands himself a promising position directing a New Orleans hospital’s intensive care unit. His mental and physical limits are soon tested by the soaring demand for his expertise and an exploding AIDS epidemic. Then Hurricane Jezebel floods the city and knocks out power, plumbing, and telephones. Temperatures soar. Supplies run low. As day follows miserable day, fatalities fill a make-shift morgue. Through the sweltering, fetid gloom Phineas employs his training to alleviate patient suffering…until he faces one terrible threat that will put his entire future in jeopardy. Breath into Life is the prequel to Mark Anthony Powers’ bestselling debut novel, A Swarm in May, and the first book of a trilogy. Through the character of Dr. Phineas Mann, the author explores the ethical dilemmas of providing supportive care for dying patients.
Plot/Idea: 9 out of 10
Originality: 8 out of 10
Prose: 8 out of 10
Character/Execution: 9 out of 10
Overall: 8.50 out of 10


Plot/Idea: In this riveting prequel, Dr. Phineas Mann deals with the AIDS epidemic in a New Orleans hospital and then the aftermath of a hurricane. Powers successfully captures the urgency and agony of grappling with a devastating disease.

Prose: The prose is clean and brisk, delivering clear and organic insight into the characters' motivations and intentions.

Originality: The author's familiarity with the early 1980s era is apparent, as is his understanding of hospital and end-of-life care. 

Character Development/Execution: Most characters are well crafted, especially Phineas the protagonist. Dialogue is lively throughout while the sly humor is surprising and lends itself well to making the painful subject matter more readable.

Date Submitted: May 03, 2022

Midwest Book Review

Breath and Mercy

Mark Anthony Powers

Hawksbill Press

978-1-7370329-2-2                $16.99 Paper/$6.99 Kindle


In 1983 in the novel Breath and Mercy, Phineas Mann is on course to become a successful physician in New Orleans after years of medical school training.


His momentum is stymied by two life-altering events: the rise of AIDS and Hurricane Jezebel, both of which introduce challenges to his career on different levels. Either of these events could sink him.


Mark Anthony Powers first told Mann's story in A Swarm in May, which covered some of his dilemmas in choosing patient treatments; but this prequel sets the stage for that book by returning to the past to cover his influences and the evolution of his dedication to healthcare.


The story traces his move from Boston, contrasting cultural milieus and Dr. Mann's personal life with the professional challenges he faces on a daily basis as he grapples with cases needing miracles and those which hold little hope for successful treatment.


As an ethical challenge emerges to test Dr. Mann's training and convictions, Powers creates a compelling story.


Breath and Mercy is about rescue and redemption processes that challenge this good doctor and his readers alike with thought-provoking passages following medical processes and accompanying ethical dilemmas.


The medical community's activities and sketches of life-saving and life-altering experiences permeate a story that is both captivating and educational.


What kind of supportive care should be given to those who are dying?


As legal processes blend into personal predicaments, Powers crafts a tale that ventures into questions of murder and survival tactics as Dr. Mann faces many career-changing moments and epiphanies.


Readers seeking a compelling story solidly rooted in both medical procedures and accompanying moral and ethical concerns will find Breath and Mercy a vivid tale.