Thursday, August 08, 2013

To Darkness and To Death by Julia-Spencer-Fleming

First Lines: Cold. The cold awoke her, creeping underneath her blanket, spreading like an ache along her hip.

Linda Van Alstyne is rushing to finish the huge order of curtains and drapes in time for the opening of the area's new luxury resort. Millers Kill Police Chief Russ Van Alstyne is happy to leave his wife to her sewing machine; he plans to do a little hunting and read a few chapters of Lee Childs' latest Jack Reacher novel. The Reverend Clare Fergusson needs to get St. Alban's Church ready for the bishop's annual visit. Although Linda is allowed to keep sewing up a storm, the plans of Russ and Clare go right out the window.

Millicent van der Hoeven is selling her family's Adirondack estate to a nature conservancy, and now her younger sister is missing. No hunting or reading for Russ, and-- as a volunteer for the area Search and Rescue team, Clare isn't going to be cleaning a church. She'll be looking for Millicent's sister, too. But Millers Kill is a small place, and one person's problems have a way of being interconnected with several others. What was first believed to be a woman lost in the woods rapidly turns to kidnap, revenge, blackmail... and murder.

I continue to enjoy this series that I began reading such a short time ago. Spencer-Fleming knows how to write pulse-pounding scenes of action and danger while bringing her characters to life. Russ Van Alstyne and Clare Fergusson are two good people who've pledged themselves to help others. They are also falling deeply in love with each other, and this plunges them into a huge briar patch of moral dilemmas. I'd say that it's a treat to watch them walk the tightrope of professional respect and fiery passion except for one tiny fact: Spencer-Fleming not only makes readers feel the characters' attraction, she makes them feel their pain. This is probably the best relationship in crime fiction, and I'm always torn between inhaling the books in this series as quickly as I can to find out what happens to these two, or trying to take some time to savor each one. So far I'm savoring, but it's not easy.

Spencer-Fleming not only provides a top notch story and wonderfully complex characters (one of which is the upper New York state setting), there's also plenty of insight into human nature. She also touches on environmental issues with the estate being handed over to a nature conservancy, showing how this would affect the area's hunters as well as local logging companies and paper manufacturing.

If I have any complaints about this fourth book, it would be that too much time is spent with minor characters and not enough with Russ and Clare. The author is treading a very fine line with the two from a moralistic standpoint, and I know that they can't spend every day in each other's pockets, but when I find myself reading and reading and then thinking to myself, "Hey, where are Russ and Clare?" I know it's been too long between their scenes.

Now that I have that complaint off my chest, I find myself itching to pick up the next book in the series. I'm addicted!

To Darkness and To Death by Julia Spencer-Fleming
ISBN: 9780312988876
Minotaur Books © 2006
Mass Market Paperback, 364 pages

Police Procedural, #4 Fergusson and Van Alstyne mystery
Rating: A-
Source: Paperback Swap


  1. I'm just about managing to savour at the moment too. But it's hard! This one sounds so good, I have it, but book 3 comes first of course.

    1. I've been relaxing my "Series In Order" rule a lot lately, but not for this series!

  2. Cathy - I like those two main characters too. I'll confess I haven't (yet) read this one, but I do like the way Spencer-Fleming has let them and their relationship evolve. Not an easy balance as you imply, but it's done quite well I think.


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