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In the Bleak Midwinter: A Clare Fergusson and Russ Van Alstyne Mystery (The Rev. Clare Fergusson & Russ Van Alstyne Mysteries #1)

3.92  ·  Rating details ·  9,637 Ratings  ·  1,149 Reviews
It's a cold, snowy December in the upstate New York town of Millers Kill, and newly ordained Clare Fergusson is on thin ice as the first female priest of its small Episcopal church. The ancient regime running the parish covertly demands that she prove herself as a leader. However, her blunt manner, honed by years as an army pilot, is meeting with a chilly reception from so ...more
ebook, 272 pages
Published April 1st 2007 by Minotaur Books (first published March 4th 2002)
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Sheila Myers There aren't any of what I would describe as graphic murder scenes. Julia Spencer-Fleming did a great job describing the scenes and giving just enough…moreThere aren't any of what I would describe as graphic murder scenes. Julia Spencer-Fleming did a great job describing the scenes and giving just enough information so that the reader will know how the victim died. There are no scenes describing the autopsies.(less)
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Community Reviews

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Apr 30, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobooks
The mystery is the only reason I finished the book. I did not like Clare, I did not like Russ, I did not like the narrator. That pretty much sums it up. Knowing that many people whose opinions I respect adore this series and being aware of its awards, I have to just scratch my head and say "but not for me."

As other less than favorable reviews have noted, the premise is fatally flawed. The author tells me that Clare is a smart, competent war veteran while showing me a wacky meddler with a dangero
Jan 04, 2008 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, mystery
Apparently, this book won all sorts of awards and got glowing reviews in several respected publications, including my hometown Washington Post. My only question is whether I read the same book as everyone else? I found this book to be predictable, tedious, poorly plotted and characterized. The main characters - there were two - were both conflicted, but their conflicts were sterotypical and the intersection of those conflicts telegraphed with every paragraph. The points of view shifted around - ...more
I am an avaricious consumer of mystery series, but there are so many stand-alone books that I want and need to read right now that yet another delectable series is an unwise choice. Well, too late. I read the first in the Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne, In the Bleak Midwinter, and once again, I'm hooked. Julia Spencer-Fleming is another Bouchercon 2013 author that I wanted to sample before the September gathering, and I duped myself into believing that I could indeed eat just one. I will begin ...more
Kathleen Valentine
Clever Murder Mystery or Cheesy Romance Novel? You Decide.

Because it is so hot right now I got this bright idea to cool things off by reading a book that had a very chilly setting. I'd read good things about Julia Spencer-Fleming's In The Bleak Midwinter and, since I had a copy handy, I decided to give it a read.

As a murder mystery it is pretty good, clever, well-paced – I didn't figure it out prematurely. The setting, in the Adirondacks in winter, was excellent, the writing was good, the plot m
Jacob Proffitt
Feb 06, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mystery
I finished this a couple days ago (and the next three in the series) and I'm still having a hard time putting my reaction into words. As my teen daughter would say, the feels are just too big. So I'm going to do my best on this one and hope it applies to the series as a whole as much as to this specific book and keep it relatively general (because there's no way I'll be able to do this for every book in the series and I don't plan on being so detailed in future volumes).

While the book is structu
This book was a good beach book, perfect to read on a hot summer day because it takes place in a very cold New England winter.

I'm not a huge mystery reader, but I enjoyed this book. I liked the police character, I liked the amateur sleuth, I liked the small town, I liked the supporting characters, and I didn't figure out who done it ahead of time. Our protagonist, Claire, is an Episcopalian priest, who in her previous career was an Army chopper pilot. The police chief is your basic rugged New En
May 06, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Goodreads let me down on this one. I was at a loss as to what to read next so I turned to the reviews here. I didn't hate this book but I almost did. The characters were almost interesting and the plot was almost gripping. It needed to be a lot shorter and it easily could have been if you'd cut out all the details about the curtain swags, and people crossing and uncrossing their arms, and standing up and sitting down, or lord help me "swiping whip cream off his mustache." I get that these detail ...more
Jan 20, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I found this book very heavy going for the first two-thirds or so, and several times was on the point of abandoning it, but in the third reel it picked up a great deal of pace -- essentially, when it stopped being just an infuriatingly self-indulgent, rather vapid mystery and started being a thriller. Spencer-Fleming does action sequences pretty well; interpersonal relationships, not so much.

Clare Fergusson is the new priest at one of the churches in a small town, Millers Kill ("kill" = river; n
Part way through the book I was certain I'd found a new favorite series. Then, around page 100, I figured out who the killer was. This isn't a deal-breaker - I usually identify the killer, but sometimes the how and why of it keeps me riveted. Not so here, because that's obvious too. To make matters worse, the main character, the Reverend, convinced of her own righteousness, jumps into one stupid situation after another with little thought to consequences. I cared for the other main character eve ...more
May 10, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I would rate this 3.5. A female priest and the Chief of Police join forces to solve two murderes and the mystery of a baby left on the church rectory steps. In a small town in Up-State, NY. Clare is characterized as intelligent though at times pushy and at other times going beyond the expected for a non-authorized police snoop. Spencer-Fleming does hold one's attention and expertly keeps readers guessing until the mystery is finally solved. I look forward to seeing where the physical attraction ...more
Jun 19, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mystery, american-lit
Mystery in which a male cop and a female (Episcopalian) priest in a small upstate New York town team up to fight crime! I liked this more than I expected to. Russ (the cop) and Clare (the priest) are both complex, realistic characters, and I really enjoyed how the relationship between them was developed. The way they find common ground and begin to seek out and crave each other’s company felt very natural and wonderfully genderless, if you know what I mean, and after reading a lot of crappy, wei ...more
Aug 09, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, mystery
Hey, I liked this! I don’t like many traditional mysteries. Though to be fair, I don’t actually like this mystery qua mystery.

He’s the police chief of a tiny, upstate New York town. She’s a former army pilot turned Episcopal priest. (She’s improbable in that way that makes a character seem more real, instead of less, if you know what I mean). They solve crime, yeah, whatever. But mostly they have this slow-blooming connection. This book is about them becoming friends in this wonderful, organic,
Great start to a series that currently extends to 6 books. Former helicopter pilot turned Episcopalian priest Clare Fergusson and police chief Russ Van Alstyne are interesting and complex but still believable characters and I am sure their relationship will continue to be a central part of the series.

The mystery in this book was complex with plenty of twists, turns, and surprises. Add the well described setting and a cast of local residents and you can see why this book won a number of first boo
Jun 05, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Powerful writing, fascinating relationships, unusual occupations. This one is outstanding and I can understand why it won some awards. Claire Fergusson is an Episcopal Priest, on the job for all of a month when she first meets Russ Von Alsytyne. The occasion is the finding of a baby on the church doorstep. From there the suspense in this one builds and spirals and just about forces you to keep reading.

I'm late coming into this series but can't wait to get onto the next episode. I love a book wit
Sharon Huether
May 20, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mystery
A police chief and a woman priest team up to solve several mysteries and murders in a small town during the winter. The characters are real and the plot full of imagination. There are surprises in the outcome. Great book.
Alicia (is beyond tired of your *ish)
I have read this book twice now within six months. It only got better upon the second reading.

The story wasn't what I thought it was going to be from the blurb because of their relationship statuses in the book. So it had me worried for a very long time. I think that was the reason for the four stars I gave the book after the first time I read it. I'm going to try to keep this review to the first book alone, though it's hard as I want to comment on what comes later. I apologize if I fail at it,
Jan 02, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mystery
This was the perfect way to pass some hours the other day, when I needed something to take my mind off things and could curl up on the sofa with the dog, book and tea while the storm blew in and I was away from my world. (Our storm was wind and rain, not snow!) I really liked both the main characters, and even if the mystery wasn't brilliant, it was good enough to keep me engaged when I was so taken with Clare and Russ. I'm not sure how Clare would have seemed to someone not brought up Anglican, ...more
Jan 19, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In the first book of the series we are introduced to Russ Van Alstyne, Chief of Police in the small town of Miller's Kill, New York and the Reverend Clare Ferguson, newly ordained priest of St. Alban's Episcopal Church and former Army helicopter pilot.

They meet when Clare finds a newborn baby wrapped in blankets outside the church. The person who left the baby also left a note asking that the baby be given to a local couple who have been desperate to adopt a child, Geoffrey and Karen Burns. Sinc
Apr 10, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
I'm not sure why I bought this. Someone somewhere wrote a review that intrigued me. (here on Goodreads? Can't remember now, sorry!) There's no way reading the cover would have pulled me in. A mystery - nah, not in the mood right now. Ex-military priest and ex-military cop? Sounds way too testosterone-inflated for my taste. Sleepy small town with dark undercurrents? Sounds trite.

But what I do love is having my expectations turned upside down, and this book definitely is nothing like you would ex
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Melissa McShane
Mar 03, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own, mystery
Wow, this was really good! The mystery kept me guessing, yes, and I really enjoyed seeing Clare doing her priestly duties--I love stories in which religious people are portrayed as not crazy or venal or misguided. There's a good tension between Russ as the hard-headed, cynical cop and Clare as the more optimistic, generous priest, especially since neither of them is stereotypically so. But what I loved was the developing relationship between Russ and Clare, how I could see where it was going eve ...more
Oct 10, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Since I went counter to my rule of always reading a series in order, and read a later title of the series (and liked it), I decided to continue with the series from the beginning. I really like the two main characters, and how they work together. One of my GRs friends mentioned the fact that we never meet Russ's wife, Linda, wonders what she was like. It's a good point, but my take is that there isn't the chemistry between she and Russ that seems to be developing between he and Clare. It's a ver ...more
I never would have picked out this book on my own, but as a guest at my Mom's bookclub in Houston later this month, I wanted to be able to participate!

This was a great page turner! It is a wholesome murder mystery that's hard to put down. It was not a book that changed my life, but it was quite smart, suspenseful, and fun and I am very happy to have read it. I highly recommend this novel as a vacation/light read!

3.5 stars
Erin L
Apr 05, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mystery
Well then. I was somewhat expecting a cozy mystery on this one. I quickly realized my mistake and was sucked into the story.

I'm not sure which booktuber helped me choose to start this series sooner rather than later, but I'm glad I did. So so so good and I can't wait to get to the next one.
In the Bleak Midwinter was better than most of the other books I've rated as 3-stars, but not quite good enough to bump it up to 4-stars. (Will we ever get 1/2 stars on GoodReads?)

Rev. Clare Fergusson, Episcopal priest, has recently moved to the upstate New York town of Miller's Kill in the piedmont of the Adirondacks. A few weeks after her arrival, as she leaves the church after a vestry meeting on a snowy evening, she finds a newborn left on the steps of the church. The note left with the bab
Aug 18, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mystery
This is 3.5 stars.

If the measure of a successful mystery is its ability to catch and hold the reader's interest, than this book succeeds. But in order to rise about the common 'read', it should introduce a memorable and complex protagonist whose personality shows change (preferably growth) resulting from the progression of plot, interactions with subordinating characters, and self examination. Primary characters work better if I can identify or sympathize with them, although we do not have to
Jul 28, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mystery
In the Bleak Midwinter is a really great mystery. The lead character is not your typical heroine. She isn't a PI or a detective. Claire Fergusson is an Episcopal Priest. OK, she has a back ground as a former ex-Army chopper pilot, but she has given that life up and moved to Miller's Kill, New York and the care of St Alban's Church.

When a new born infant is left on her door step before she has even had a chance to unpack, Claire finds herself thrown into the middle if church politics and the tow
Sherri Huntley
Dec 25, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: first-reads
This is a terrific book, I enjoyed every page.I recieved the book on monday from Goodreads and finished it in just a couple of days - it really holds your attention. The story starts off with an abandonded baby and soon after a murder but the best thing about the book is that there were so many twists and turns that you didn't figure out the mystery until the very end. I find it difficult to finish out books when you know you have already figured it out but I just had to keep reading this one. T ...more
Dec 23, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very gritty, exciting mystery starring the Reverend Clare Fergusson and small town Police Chief Russ Van Alstyne. When the Reverend finds a baby abandoned on the Church Doorstep, little does she know that she will be wrapped up in murder as well.

This book is definitely not a cozy, but it isn't as dark as other mysteries out there. It was a well-written, exciting novel with a satisfying ending, and it definitely deserved the many awards it received.
Nov 13, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Original female priest-detective combo in charge of the investigation into the murder of a young girl and the abandonment of her new-born child on a freezing December night.
Satisfying mystery, a solid 3 stars.
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The Narthex: In the Bleak Midwinter Reviews 1 14 Apr 10, 2012 11:47PM  
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Wednesday, September 7

Work-In-Progress Wednesday at my Reader Space. We're up to the fifth part of the second chapter of my eighth book, which has some numerological meaning, I'm sure.
More about Julia Spencer-Fleming...

Other Books in the Series

The Rev. Clare Fergusson & Russ Van Alstyne Mysteries (9 books)
  • A Fountain Filled with Blood (Rev. Clare Fergusson & Russ Van Alstyne Mysteries, #2)
  • Out of the Deep I Cry (Rev. Clare Fergusson & Russ Van Alstyne Mysteries, #3)
  • To Darkness and to Death (Rev. Clare Fergusson & Russ Van Alstyne Mysteries, #4)
  • All Mortal Flesh (The Rev. Clare Fergusson & Russ Van Alstyne Mysteries #5)
  • I Shall Not Want (Rev. Clare Fergusson & Russ Van Alstyne Mysteries, #6)
  • One Was a Soldier (Rev. Clare Fergusson & Russ Van Alstyne Mysteries, #7)
  • Through the Evil Days (Rev. Clare Fergusson & Russ Van Alstyne Mysteries, #8)
  • Hid from Our Eyes (Rev. Clare Fergusson & Russ Van Alstyne Mysteries, #9)
“I believe that God hears our prayers, and cherishes them. I believe He answers by sending us His spirit, giving us strenght, and peace, and insight. I don't think He responds by turning away bullets and curing cancer. Though sometimes that does happen."

Harlene frowned. "In other words, sometimes, the answer is no?"

"No. Sometimes the answer is "This is life, in all its variety. Make your way through it with grace, and never forget that I love you.”
“Russ decided the best defense was a good offense. "I'm Russell Van Alstyne, Millers Kill chrief of police." He held out his hand. She shook firm, like a guy.

"Clare Fergusson," she said. "I'm the new priest at Saint Alban's. That's the Episcopal Church. At the corner of Elm and Church." there was a faint testiness in her voice. Russ relaxed a fraction. A woman priest. If that didn't beat all.

"I know which it is. There are only four churches in town." He saw the fog creeping along the edges of his glasses again and snatched them off, fishing for a tissue in his pocket. "Can you tell me what happened, um..." What was he supposed to call her? "Mother?"

"I go by Reverend, Chief. Ms. is fine, too."

"Oh. Sorry. I never met a woman priest before."

"We're just like the men priests, except we're willing to pull over and ask directions.”
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