Through the Evil Days by Julia Spencer-Fleming

9780312606848_p0_v3_s260x420While my East Coast friends have been experiencing a harrowing snow storm, I have been wallowing through the ice and cold with Clare Fergusson and Chief Russ Van Alstyne in Julia Spencer-Fleming’s latest adventure – Through the Evil Days. Clare and Russ are married with Clare 5 months pregnant when the kidnapping of a young girl and a meth gang upturn their ice-fishing honeymoon at a deserted cabin in the woods. Those problems may be not as dire as the threats to close down the Milllers Kill police department and to relieve Clare of her duties as pastor of St. Alban’s. Both Clare and Russ might face a changed future – if they can escape from the criminals and save the little girl’s life.

Another daring adventure in the Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne mystery series – good to read around the fireplace. But I’m happy to be only reading about the icy winter.

House At Sea’s End

Feisty women detectives who can solve crimes, but have trouble handling their personal lives seems to be a good formula for mystery.  Before I got hooked on Julia Spencer Fleming’s Clare Ferguson series, I had found Elly Griffiths’ Ruth Galloway, the British  forensic archeologist.  The cliffhanger at the end of the second book included the results of a romance with the local handsome  – and married – detective. Thanks to a friend who reminded me of the third book in this series – The House at Sea’s End is offering the next installment to the personal drama, and with more murders to be solved.

With the backdrop of the cold British cliffs of Norfolk, Ruth leads an investigation of six dead bodies, but this time she’s a single mother, juggling “babyminders”  and her career.  Griffiths fills in the backstory with references to her first two books, but the relationships are easy to decipher without reminders of past crimes solved.  Solving the many murders is fun with World War II espionage and a secret message Ruth cracks by deciphering a dead man’s code – but the romance is better.

Not a long wait to find out what happens next with Ruth Galloway and Harry Nelson – Griffiths has another mystery in the series to be published soon – The House of Bones – more progress on the romance and more murders to be solved.  If you like Clare’s mystery/romance escapades, you might enjoy Ruth too.

Read my reviews of Elly Griffiths’ first two books:

All Caught Up with the Clare Ferguson Mysteries

What will I do now?  I’m finished with all seven in Julia Spencer-Fleming’s mystery series with Rev. Clare and Chief Russ – and it’s not over yet…

The sixth in the series – I Shall Not Want – has another adventure solving crime case with the unlikely duo of Rev. Clare Ferguson, Episcopal woman priest and weekend warrior Army helicopter pilot, and police Chief Russ Van Alstyne, her true love.  This time the action involves illegal immigrants on the Chief’s sister’s dairy farm, a drug cartel, and money laundering.  Add to that, the requisite murders, chases after the criminals, shootings with near-death of the good guys – and it’s another exciting time in the New York upstate town of Millers Kill.

Spencer-Fleming heats up the romance; this book has the sexiest scenes so far –  not just with Clare and Russ; another romance is brewing on the force with a new policewoman on the beat.  The scene in the smoke from the barn burning with marijuana is probably the funniest so far, but watch out for the tear-jerker at the end.

The last book – published in 2011 – One Was a Soldier – has the contemporary theme of soldiers returning from war.  Clare, with four other local townspeople, meet in a veterans’ support group: a medical doctor who’s having trouble focusing, a track star who’s lost his legs, a woman juggling the love of a combat affair with returning to her husband, and a police officer who cannot control his temper.  Rev. Clare has been hitting the liquor and the pain pills to ease the pain, as she tries to assimilate back into civilization – like her fellow soldiers.  Of course, the action involves murder and the ongoing relationship between Clare and Russ.  Spencer-Fleming resolves most of the post-war trauma, leaving a few strings dangling and with another surprise at the end.

Because I was new to this author, I read through all the books without waiting – like getting all the TV episodes of a popular series at once: no wait to relieve the anxiety from the cliffhangers.  I hope Julia Spencer-Fleming writes the next installment soon – but not too soon – I could use some sleep from staying up all night to find out what happens.

Clare Ferguson Mystery Progress Report

Everyone knows one another in the small town of Millers Kill.  Clare Ferguson, the Episcopal priest is relatively new, but Chief Van Alstyne went to high school with the town leaders and knows the town murderers.  In a complicated plot that includes kidnapping, blackmail, and murder, To Darkness and To Death, the fourth in the Spencer-Fleming series, keeps the suspense high on Chief Van Alstyne’s fiftieth birthday.  Loggers and heirs to a paper mill conflict in the sale of land to a luxury resort.  Rev. Clare is involved in the chase, as she vacillates between a new love interest and her yearning for the married Chief Russ, her soul mate.  Chief Russ has decided to tell his wife about his feelings for Clare.  And the plot thickens…

The next in the series, All Mortal Flesh, opens with a murder – the wife of the Police Chief Van Alsytne.  Both Clare and Russ are suspects, and they are working together again – this time to save themselves.   Another wild mystery ride…I won’t spoil it for you, but Julia Spencer Fleming will keep you reading into the night with this one – with a surprise ending you will not expect.

If you’ve read Julia Spencer-Fleming’s first book – In the Bleak Midwinter – you may have been hooked on both the romance and the murder mystery.  Solving the murders along with the Rev. Clare Ferguson, Episcopal woman priest, and the married police chief, Russ Van Alstyne, is fun and satisfying, but it’s the romance between the two that keeps me looking for the next book.

Spencer-Fleming has 7 in the series; unless you like spoilers, you need to read them in order:

  1. In the Bleak Midwinter
  2. A Fountain Filled with Blood
  3. Out of the Deep I Cry
  4. To Darkness and To Death
  5. All Mortal Flesh
  6. I Shall Not Want
  7. One Was a Soldier

More Clare Ferguson Mysteries – A Fountain Filled with Blood and Out of the Deep I Cry

After reading Julia Spencer-Fleming’s In the Bleak Midwinter, I was hooked on the crime-busting team of Clare Ferguson, Episcopal priest and former Army helicopter pilot, with her foil and possible love interest, police chief Russ Van Alstyne.  Following the advice of the friend who introduced me to the series, I’ve been reading the books in order of publication – although I am tempted to jump to the end to find out how the brewing romance between the Rev. Clare and Chief Russ (married to someone else) turns out.

The second in the series – A Fountain Filled With Blood – has the intrepid team following a trail of homophobic murders in the small upstate New York town of Millers Kill.  Three murders, and Clare keeps getting the leads to suspects that she happily passes on to the Chief – when she’s not busy organizing candlelight vigils or offering pre-marital counseling.

Spencer-Fleming maintains the suspense with gory bodies, likely suspects and clever banter, but also offers some humor:  Clare hiding behind a shower curtain and jumping out the bathroom window to avoid being caught snooping.   She later redeems her flaky behavior with a daring helicopter rescue that reads like watching a good action flick.  And the mastermind to all the murders is not who you think – Spencer-Fleming keeps you guessing to the end.

Mrs. Van Alstyne makes an appearance in this book, but it’s not the Chief’s wife; it’s his feisty seventy-year-old mother.   And the possibilities between Russ and Clare just keep simmering…

Of course, I had to immediately continue with the next installment – Out of the Deep I Cry – a year later and Chief Russ and Rev. Clare now have a regular lunch date.  Spencer-Fleming always uses a current issue to wrap around her murders: abandoned babies, gay rights, environmental pollution. This time the controversy is over baby inoculations, missing husbands, and shady money. Spencer-Fleming, once again, mixes the right formula of suspense and realistic characters to keep the plot flowing with surprises up to the final pages, tapping into the town’s history to solving the puzzle.

And the simmer between her two main characters? They finally kiss.

I’ve already ordered the next two books in the series from the library: To Darkness and to Death; All Mortal Flesh.   I can’t wait…