Erica Anderson's Reviews > In the Bleak Midwinter

In the Bleak Midwinter by Julia Spencer-Fleming
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's review
Apr 10, 11

bookshelves: mystery, 2011-reads
Read from April 08 to 09, 2011

I really enjoyed this character-driven contemporary mystery. I was lucky enough to be introduced to the series by Julia Spencer-Fleming herself, when I won a copy of the 7th book in the series, One Was a Soldier, which arrived a couple of weeks ago accompanied by a lovely note from the author. Not wanting to start the series in the middle, I bought a digital copy of Bleak Midwinter, which was nigh unputdownable.

Since I don't read many mysteries, I can't really judge (or categorize) the mystery part of the book. But as a reader, I can say that the two strengths of this novel are the expertly drawn characters and the setting, which is upstate New York during the winter. The protagonists are Russ Van Alstyne, the police chief of a small town, and the recently arrived (female) Episcopal priest, Clare Fergusson.

In the course of working through the mystery, which begins with a baby left on the steps of Clare's church, Russ and Clare develop feelings for each other. Only problem is that Russ is married. I want to make clear that there are no acts of infidelity in the book. Instead, by the end of the story, Russ and Clare have realized what's going on between them and resolutely chosen not to act upon it.

Both characters are incredibly sympathetic, although Clare's foolishness regarding appropriate winter clothing and driving conditions leads her into TSTL territory. (I'm from Alaska, and being TSTL here during an interior winter means you're bear bait). What makes her behavior understandable (and more palatable) is the fact that Russ (and other characters) point out that she's being stupid, but Clare is both stubborn and too busy to worry about things like good boots and kitty litter in the trunk. She's depicted as very much concerned with others, so I can understand how someone like her might ignore good advice if it interferes with what she considers her primary duty--helping others.

As should be obvious, this is not a romance; rather the series promises to address issues of faith and faithfulness in a serious, adult way. I recommend it.

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