Sunday, November 27, 2011

In the Bleak Midwinter by Julia Spencer-Fleming

Title: In the Bleak Midwinter
Author: Julia Spencer-Fleming
ISBN: 9780312986766
Publisher: Minotaur Books, 2003
Mass Market Paperback, 384 pages
Genre: Suspense, #1 Fergusson/Van Alstyne mystery
Rating: A
Source: Paperback Swap

First Line: It was one hell of a night to throw away a baby.

There's a new priest at St. Alban's Episcopal Church in Miller's Kill, New York, and there are several parish members who believe the newcomer isn't a very good fit. Not only is Clare Fergusson a female, she's also an ex-Army helicopter pilot. When Clare finds a newborn baby left on the church doorstep, she meets the town police chief, Russ Van Alstyne, who's the ex-Army good shepherd of his Miller's Kill flock. Together, their search for the baby's mother leads them into a world of secrets, a world of trouble... and a world of temptation.

When this book was published, it made quite a noise-- being the first to win the Agatha Award, the Malice Domestic Award, the Anthony Award, the Dilys Award, the Barry Award, and the Macavity Award for Best First Novel. This is the first time this has ever happened, and the fanfare was tremendous. As in most cases when a book is praised from every rooftop, I merely lowered my head a bit and kept on reading my books. Massive praise makes me leary; however, when I was doing research recently, this book and its author reappeared on my radar, and I thought the time was right to see what all the shouting was about.

There's one good thing about coming late to the party: I can make an entrance and perhaps persuade other no-shows that they may want to dust off their invitations and join in the fun.

From the first line and from the first meeting of the two main characters, I found myself climbing up on the bandwagon. The December weather in the Adirondack Mountains did make me glad I was reading the book in sunny Phoenix, but In the Bleak Midwinter is all about Clare Fergusson and Russ Van Alstyne, two of the best characters I've come across in in all my reading this year.

I felt more in tune with Van Alstyne-- cynical and all too aware of the evil humans are capable of. I have to admit that Clare had a tendency to drive me nuts in the how-can-a-smart-person-be-so-darned-dumb sort of way. Yes, she's not used to the sort of weather Miller's Kill is prone to, but how many times does she have to risk frostbite before she gets a pair of decent boots... and how many times does she have to skid off the road before she gets a vehicle that can deal with snow?

I do not care for "femjep"-- those times when a female character knowingly puts herself in danger for no real reason. Clare does this in her silly boots and even sillier MG, and the only thing that saved that portion of the book for me was how she got herself out of the mess.

These two characters could have me going on forever, but I will show restraint. The way I'm waxing poetic over Clare and Russ, you're probably wondering why I didn't give this book my highest rating. There are two reasons: Clare's mule-headed meteorological stupidity and the fact that it was rather easy to deduce whodunit and why.

Other than that, I'll have you know that I already have the next five books in the series on my to-be-read shelves-- with the most recent firmly ensconced on my wishlist. I will admit to being a bit nervous, though. My husband Denis has also read and enjoyed In the Bleak Midwinter and moved right along to A Fountain Filled With Blood. We've talked about the first book, so when Denis told me what Clare's new car is in the second book, all I could do was groan. Clare, don't do this to me!

Isn't it grand when you find characters that make you talk to yourself?


  1. I'm originally from that area, so I can attest to the awful weather. It is also why I started reading the series; the good story line is why I keep reading it.

  2. Clare will have you groaning once or twice or three times more but I still really like the series. I've finished book 5 or 6 and I still really like Russ and Clare. But I've been spacing them out.

  3. I avoid books that get huge buzz like that too, but you've made this one sound totally buzz worthy!

  4. Wow - that list of awards is impressive and I don't think I'd even heard of this book(!)

    I don't generally read thrillers but I notice you've called this 'suspense'. How do you make the distinction between those two?

    I'd hate to miss a really good mystery. Am I safe to put this on my TBR list?

  5. This sounds fascinating - thanks!

    Shelleyrae @ Book'd Out

  6. Mike-- Weather like that is one of the main reasons why I now live in Phoenix. Thanks for stopping by!

    Candace-- Thanks for the groan alert!

    Kathy-- It is! For once I wasn't disappointed.

    Debbie-- Actually it's a difficult book to classify, and I wimped out with labeling it suspense. It's half amateur sleuth and half police procedural. I hope that helps! And yes-- I think you're very safe in putting this on your TBR list!

    Shelleyrae-- You're welcome!

  7. Cathy - Oh, I'm glad you liked this one! I have to say that I like your term, "femjep;" I know exactly what you mean and I get tired of that, too. I'm glad that part didn't take too much away from the book for you.

  8. I've read this entire series, and boy are you in for some good reading! LOVED this series from the very first. It won just about every debut award in the year of its publication.

    Enjoyed reading your review and I do agree about that stupid little sportscar. I mean, jeez. But she does get herself out of trouble, so that was fine with me.

    I've been lucky enough to meet the author and she is a total hoot - she and her hubby are HUGE Boston Red Sox fans. :)

  9. Margot-- No, as I said, she redeemed herself by the way in which she cleaned up the mess she made. ; )

    Yvette-- It did win every award... the only book to have done so! I do love people who can be described as total hoots. I'll keep my fingers crossed that she visits the Poisoned Pen here in Phoenix sometime!

  10. I just started reading this series earlier this year and really enjoy it!

  11. Marg-- If I didn't have a stack of ARCs staring at me, I'd pick up the next book in the series!


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