Pilot-turned-priest, husband seek missing child in NY

Michaeline Chance-Reay

By A Contributor

Julia Spencer- Fleming continues her mystery series with this eighth story of the adventures of Marine helicopter pilot veteran turned Episcopal priest, Claire Fergusson and her now husband, local sheriff Russ Van Alstyne, who is an Army veteran.

She has served in Iraq and Afghanistan and he in Vietnam so violence is not foreign to them. She doesn’t carry a gun because she would not use it due to her religious convictions so she must use other skills. The sheriff has no such compunctions.

These newly married residents of the fictional town of Miller’s Kill, N.Y., work together to solve a case of arson and the abduction of a critically ill child while supposedly on their honeymoon in the Adirondacks. I like to think that only in fiction would a woman of any age think it romantic to go ice-fishing in the middle of winter.

The destination is remote but crime eventually comes to them. Although a hackneyed phrase, “action-packed” can sum up her winter tale. Even if one has not followed the series they will find this police procedural interesting and exciting.

Characters are three-dimensional, and there are multiple story lines. Descriptions of blizzards in the mountains of northern New York make January in Manhattan seem more like Miami in comparison.

When the newlyweds are held hostage for a period Claire follows the advice of a former Marine SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape) instructor to sew confusion and reap opportunity by spraying her captor with mildew cleaner and ramming him in the stomach with a toilet plunger, reminding her husband that, “ I said I wouldn’t use a gun. I didn’t say I’d forgo protection.”

Like the previous narratives it ends with character dilemmas unsolved at a critical juncture, reminiscent of the old 1940’s radio dramas like “The Fat Man” or “Inner Sanctum” endings of the to be continued variety. Gasp!

Spencer-Fleming’s seventh novel in the series, ”One Was a Soldier,” put her in the coveted category of New York Times Best Selling Author, and this is a strong follow-up which bodes well for the future. The author studied history and acting at Ithaca College, an appropriate preparation for the law degree she eventually earned at the University of Maine.

She has been the winner of numerous awards: the Agatha Christie by Malice Domestic Ltd. mystery fans; Anthony Boucher, a founder of the Mystery Writers of America by attendees of the World Mystery Convention; Barry Gardner, promoter and critic of mystery fiction, by readers’ and the editorial board of the “Deadly Pleasures” UK fan magazine;  Dilys Winn, first specialty bookseller of mysteries by the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association; Edgar Allen Poe by the Mystery Writers of America; Gumshoe — a slang term for detective by the American Internet Magazine, Mystery Ink.; Nero Wolfe – fictional detective by the Wolfe Pack society that celebrates Wolfe stories. And she was short-listed for the McCavity – name of T.S. Eliot’s cat, awarded by Mystery Writers International.

All are very prestigious and since the honors are from readers, book sellers, and peers, I believe they are well-earned.

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