Who would expect a former Army helicopter pilot to become an Episcopalian priest? Who would expect that priest to also be a female? And one who jumps into possibly dangerous situations first and asks questions later? These are some of the plot twists in Julia Spencer-Fleming’s In the Bleak Midwinter, first in the Clare Fergusson and Russ Van Alstyne series.
A baby abandoned behind St. Alban’s demands Reverend Clare Fergusson dive right into the thick of things assisting Chief of Police Russ Van Alstyne. They begin piecing clues together, first the identity of the baby’s mother, then the father. Deaths mount up as quickly as clues – first the baby’s mother, then the baby’s conniving, ne’re-do-well grandfather. All during a bleak Adirondack winter.
As the mystery thickens, so does the attraction between the priest and the married chief. Needless to say, feelings deepen between Russ and Clare as they work towards the denouement with the murderer.
Clare and Russ are well-drawn characters. However, some of the secondary characters are rather stereotypical, such as the vestry members and congregation at St. Alban’s – white and definitely WASP-ish. Any hint from Reverend Clare about helping young, unwed mothers to improve their lives gets her congregation all aflutter. Linda Van Alstyne, Russ’s wife, is a virtual nonentity, always in the background. All that’s mentioned about her is that she runs a business dealing with draperies and curtains. But still, her presence (or lack thereof) is like the silent sword of Damocles hanging over Russ and Clare and their budding friendship.
Similarly, the family of the baby’s mother are distinctly described as overweight and white trash from the wrong side of the tracks. So, of course, the family of the baby’s father look down their long, thin, patrician noses and attempt to distance themselves from baby Cody, his mother, and her family.
Overall, I liked this mystery with romance sprinkled in. In the future, I’ll gradually read the rest of this series. I’ll read at least one more helping of Clare and Russ this year – A Fountain Filled with Blood.
In the Bleak Midwinter
by Julia Spencer-Fleming