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Book Author: Julia Spencer-Fleming

HID FROM OUR EYES by Julia Spencer-Fleming: Book Review

I’ve “known” the Reverend Clare Fergusson since she interviewed to become the first female priest leading the Episcopal church in Millers Kill, New York, nearly two decades ago.  That’s in real time, but in fictional time not that many years have passed.  In Julia Spencer-Fleming’s latest novel in the series, Hid From Our Eyes, Clare is naturally older than she was when In the Bleak Midwinter was written, but not by eighteen years.

Now she is the established priest of St. Albans, married to the town’s Chief of Police Russ Van Alstyne, and the mother of a four-month-old son.  Her days, and nights as well, are a constant juggling act between caring for Ethan, arranging for various child care options when neither she nor Russ is available, and attending to her flock.  That would be daunting enough for anyone, but she’s also dealing with guilt and shame:  guilt because before she knew she was pregnant she was drinking heavily and using drugs; shame because she still craves both.

Finally it does seem that Clare gets a break.  The scion of a wealthy Dutch family who has summered in the Adironacks for decades, Joni Langevoort is searching for an internship in the area while completing religious studies at Union Theological Seminary.  It would appear to be a perfect match, but Clare is surprised when she meets Joni and realizes that Joni is a transgender woman.  Not every congregation would be open to having her on their pulpit; Clare thinks that her diocese would probably get around to welcoming transgender ministers “the twelfth of Never.”  But it’s not an issue for Clare and, she hopes, not for her congregants either.

Hid From Our Eyes tells the stories of three murders spanning more than half a century.  In the midst of a town meeting, Russ gets a 911 call from the police dispatcher that the body of a young woman has been found on a rural road in Cossayuharie, dressed in a summery dress.  This fits the pattern of two separate murders that took place decades ago.  The victims of those crimes were never identified nor the killer or killers found.  “It can’t be the same,” he thinks to himself.   How could there be three identical murders decades apart?

Like his wife, Russ Van Alstyne has more than one thing on his plate.  The League of Concerned Voters, Washington County Chapter, wants to dissolve the police department.  The department covers the three towns of Millers Kill, Fort Henry, and Cossayuharie, and the League wants to give its duties to the state police in order to save the taxpayers money.  Now it’s Russ’ job to convince the voters of the importance of a local police force, but he’s facing some powerful opposition.

As always, Julia Spencer-Fleming gives the reader an intense portrait of life in Millers Kill and the differences between Clare, always an “outsider” because she didn’t grow up there, and Russ, a “townie” whose misdeeds as a young man will never be forgotten.  Once again it’s a pleasure to step into their lives.

You can read more about Julia Spencer-Fleming at various sites on the web.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.




THROUGH THE EVIL DAYS by Julia Spencer-Fleming: Book Review

A honeymoon spent in a one room log cabin, on a frozen lake, locked in by the perfect storm.  That’s where Clare Fergusson and Russ Van Alstyne find themselves in this eighth novel in Julia Spencer-Fleming’s clerical/police series.

Clare Fergusson is the minister at St. Albans Episcopal Church and is newly married to Police Chief Russ Van Alstyne.   Actually, she’s a little too newly married for some of the parishioners and the church board, being five months pregnant after only three months of marriage.  There are those who think this is a blot on the church and its ministers, and Clare has been offered the option of resigning from St. Albans rather than facing a disciplinary panel.  If she resigns she would be free to lead another church in the diocese; if she’s fired, she won’t be allowed to do so.  She is given a week to make her decision.

At the same time, Russ is informed that the Millers Kill police force may be disbanded in an effort to save the town money and its duties taken over by the New York State Police.

Each keeping her/his secret from the other, Clare and Russ are determined to have their honeymoon as planned.  But three factors complicate this, and the three combine to make the plot of Through the Evil Days.

First is the disappearance of young Mikayla Johnson.  The foster home she was living in was set on fire, killing the girl’s foster parents, but Mikayla’s body wasn’t found.  Her situation is desperate because she is on life-saving drugs following a liver transplant, and how would the person who abducted her know that or be able to obtain the medication Mikayla needs?

The second strand involves the Young Mothers Program run by St. Albans.  Amber, one of the young women in the group, asks Clare for a ride up to the lake cabin near where Clare and Russ will be honeymooning and where Amber and her baby are supposed to meet her boyfriend.  Clare and Russ duly deposit the mother and child there, but when they return to check on her, she and her child are no longer at the cabin.

The third part of the plot is the romantic involvement between Kevin Flynn and Hadley Knox, two members of the Millers Kill police force.  Their relationship has been a difficult one, and just when it appears to be going well, Hadley’s former husband comes to town with a devastating ultimatum that could wreck not only her plans with Kevin but her job as well.

Through the Evil Days is wonderful, as is every other book in this series.  Clare and Russ are strong, believable, and anxious to have a happy marriage, but life keeps throwing them curveballs.  And the relationship between Kevin and Hadley, in love but facing hurdles neither one knows how to handle, asks the question:  is love enough?

You can read more about Julia Spencer-Fleming at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Reads blog at her web site.






TO DARKNESS AND TO DEATH by Julia Spencer-Fleming: Book Review

Self-preservation is the first law of nature.  It’s certainly true in Julia Spencer-Fleming’s fourth novel in the Reverend Clare Fergusson/Police Chief Russ Van Alstyne mystery series.

I usually review the most recent book by an author, since I think that’s what most readers want.  In order to truly understand the dynamics of the priest and the police chief, though, this series should be read from the beginning.  That being said, To Darkness and To Death, the fourth Fergusson/Van Alstyne novel, will hopefully lead you to read the other books in order and thus gain a deeper insight into the characters of the two protagonists.

Clare Fergusson is an unmarried Episcopal priest in a small town north of Albany, New York. Russ Van Alstyne is a former soldier and the married police chief of this town, Millers Kill; kill is an old-fashioned word meaning a body of water such as a creek or river.

In Out of the Deep I Cry, the first book of the series, the two meet, and by the second book, A Fountain Filled with Blood, there is the beginning of a relationship that is slowly, slowly heading toward a place neither one wants it to go.

In To Darkness and To Death, many things in Millers Kill have reached the boiling point, including the relationship between Clare and Russ.

Millers Kill, like many other small towns, has been losing manufacturing businesses to other locations with cheaper labor and manufacturing costs. The two biggest businesses in town, Castle Logging and Reid-Gruyn Pulp and Paper Mill, are about to be sold by their reluctant owners to a joint ownership by a foreign company and a native conservancy group.  Economics being what they are, it’s simply not financially feasible for these two companies to stay in business, especially given the fact that the town’s huge timber tract, which they both need to stay in business, is owned by the van der Hoeven family and is also being sold.

So into the mix that is the core of the book’s one day events is 1) Millie van der Hoeven, member of the family that owns the 250,000 acre timber land, who is missing as the novel opens; 2) Randy Schoof, a logger who can’t think of any other way to make a living when he’s told the logging company will close; 3) Becky Castle, daughter of the logging company’s owner and a committed “tree-hugger” who’s putting together the sale of the timber tract; 4) Shaun Reid, fourth generation owner of the pulp mill who desperately wants his son to be the fifth generation owner; 5) Clare Fergusson and Russ Van Alstyne, whose platonic but emotionally charged relationship is about to come to a head.

What happens when law-abiding people don’t see any way out of their difficulties except murder? What happens when people who’ve always been law-abiding members of society decide to take the law into their own hands?  What has made them decide that their lives are worth so much more than anyone else’s?

What happens when two people who shouldn’t be attracted to each other, are?  Can anything good come of it?

Each of Julia Spencer-Fleming’s books shows a deep understanding of human nature. Most of us know the rules of behavior, but we can’t or don’t always abide by them.  And when we don’t, things go from bad to worse.

You can read more about Julia Spencer-Fleming at her web site.