Wednesday, January 13, 2010
Cops and crosses
In the Bleak Midwinter, by Julia Spencer-Fleming (on Kindle for $6.99) is a solid, involving debut mystery with a minimum of first-book jitters. The hook here is that the two protagonists, female Episcopalian priest Clare Fergusson and small town police chief Russ Van Alstyne form an immediate bond upon Clare's arriving in town to take over the local parish, with said bond being awkward because Russ is married and, well, Clare's a priest, who's supposed to be above such emotional messiness. But Ms. Spencer-Fleming avoids obvious potboiler scenes and develops the situation, inelegant as it is, in an intelligent and realistic manner, really making us want to see where this relationship goes. Just be warned, for any real answers you'll have to move into the second book in the series, as things only just start to heat up here.
Oh, and the mystery story? Involving domestic abuse, child custody, and murder, it's very good, too, interesting in its own right and an effective vehicle to reveal the character traits of both Russ and Clare. Predictably, in most situations he's tough and she's more sympathetic, but there are less obvious and even surprising traits in both of them, too.
In the Bleak Midwinter is a fine, fast-reading tale of an instant emotional connection between two very different (at least, at first glance) individuals set against a backdrop of violence and greed. Can the warm but imperfect glow of Russ and Clare's relationship stand up to the darkness and danger of the crimes they confront? Jump in and find out.