My Julia Spencer-Fleming streak is complete, that is, until next week when her 7th book comes out.
I had heard about the fabulous Spencer-Fleming for a while from my Sisters in Crime/New England peeps. I finally picked up her 6th book, I Shall Not Want, at Crime Bake last fall, where the author graciously signed it for me, even encouraging me about my first book. I read it without stopping, as I recall.
Now, on my recuperation from back surgery, it felt like a good time to catch up on the first five. And have I ever. In In the Bleak Midwinter, Clare Fergusson is the new Episcopalian priest in small-town Miller's Kill, New York. She's fresh to Reverending, after a stint as an Army helicopter pilot. Already perks your interest, right?
She tangles with the married chief of police, Russ Van Alstyne, while she attempts to take care of her parishioners. The tangling turns into attraction. This is a theme throughout all six books, tantalizing the reader with wanting more from their at-times stormy relationship. Other characters come and go - fellow police officers, members of St. Alban's vestry, the residents of the town. Clare and Russ remain at the center of these suspense mysteries, which Spencer-Fleming writes with lyrical language that draws you into the emotional core of their lives and the vivid details of the setting.
I had to reread I Shall Not Want when I finished book Five, All Mortal Flesh, so I could connect with the bits of backstory that she wove in so expertly I didn't question it the first time through. I'd recommend reading the series in order, but you certainly don't have to. She also changes the storytelling format from book to book. I was astonished to realize that To Darkness and to Death takes place over the course of a mere 14 hours. In 308 pages, that I only put down for the most necessary distractions of real life. In Out of the Deep I Cry, the story goes back and forth between the present, the near past and dates far in the past, to 1930 and possibly earlier. It flows beautifully. She seamlessly connects the character you have met in the present with the one you are now reading about in the far past.
Spencer-Fleming submitted the first novel she wrote, In the Bleak Midwinter, to the St. Martin's Best First Novel contest - and it won. After I read it, for just a little minute, it made me feel like quitting writing - how could I ever produce something that deep, that good? Of course, I won't, and in fact am more inspired to make my next book deeper, better. Thank you, Julia!
Look for One Was a Soldier, coming out shortly.