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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

In The Bleak Midwinter by Julia Spencer-Fleming

In The Bleak Midwinter by Julia Spencer-Fleming
Published by Minotaur Books ISBN 978-1-250-00651-6
Trade paperback $14.99

I read the latest in the Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne series One Was A Soldier last year, and so I was pleased to see that the first book of the series, In The Bleak Midwinter, was reissued last month.

It gave me the opportunity to see Clare, a National Guard helicopter pilot/ Episcopal priest and Millers Kill Chief of Police Van Alstyne meet for the first time and begin their working friendship that eventually blossoms into love.

Clare is the new priest at the local Episcopal church when a baby is left at the church entrance. She takes the baby to the hospital, along with the note that requests that the baby be given to a couple from her church who have been trying to adopt a baby.

Soon after, Katie, the college student who gave birth to the baby, is found murdered. Chief Van Alstyne is on the case and the good reverend has made it her mission to become involved as well. Katie's father had sexually abused her older sister, so it was possible that her father was the baby's father and murdered his daughter to keep quiet.

Katie had been seeing a boy from high school- could he be the father and/or the killer? Clare discovers that Katie had also been secretly dating a young man from a prominent family in the community; his father serves on Clare's church board of directors. And what about the couple whose name was in Katie's note? They wanted a baby so badly, would they kill to get one?

The list of suspects is long, and Clare's involvement in the case puts her life in danger. She is lured into the forest and shot at by someone. The scene is a long, tense one as Clare uses all her survival skills she learned in the military to save her life.

Millers Kill is located in the Adirondacks, and the setting is winter. Clare is from Virginia, and the author mines some humor from Clare not being prepared to live in the cold and snow. She drives a red sports car that has no traction in the snow. Her boots are dressy, not practical and she doesn't even have a parka. You would think someone who spent time in Iraq would be better prepared.

The mystery is a good one, and I did not guess the killer. The author does not telegraph her killer's identity, giving the reader reasons to suspect many people.

But it is the blossoming relationship between Clare and Russ that is the strength of this book. They become friends, but it is clear that they will become more as time goes on. Russ' wife is mentioned several times in the book, but she is not present in the story.

Spencer-Fleming does a great job with the setting as well. I lived in cold, snowy Central New York most of my life, and her atmosphere was spot-on; I had to put a sweater on while I was reading it. I liked the town of Millers Kill, and look forward to getting know more of the townspeople in the other books of  the series.

rating 4 of 5

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