In the Bleak Midwinter by Julia Spencer-Fleming (thoughts)
This is another (and the last) review I found that I’d written awhile ago and forgotten about in my drafts folder. I’m adding some suggested reads at the end, and then I’m banning myself from Bianca for the rest of the day so my muscles can rest up. Let’s hope that does the trick so I can start re-building my drafts stockpile! -Eva ETA: I have no idea why this chose to be published as a’June’ post and bury itself on the blog. *shrug*
I heard about In the Bleak Midwinter on Twitter; I mentioned that I’ve actually found a church I feel completely comfortable in, and that it was an Episcopal one. Almost immediately, Zee popped in and recommended this series, which features an Episcopal priest and is set in upstate New York. How could I resist? Now, as I’ve mentioned before, I tend to prefer my mysteries in the classic style (point of view remains with one, maybe two people, who are trying to solve the murder; a limited pool of suspects that the reader is introduced to; basically the ‘puzzle’ kind), so I was nervous that this series might be too noir-ish/thriller/etc. for me. After all, both the priest (a woman!) and sheriff are former Army people, and the summary makes it sound a bit, well, edgy. But fortunately, I loved it! It really brought winter to life, with a sense of cold I haven’t experienced since Origin, and while Rev. Clare Ferguson certainly gets into more danger than Miss Marple, Spencer-Fleming follows the classic mystery form with aplomb. Actually, her ability to mix a classic structure with a more contemporary writing style was one of my favourite aspects of the book; the dichotomy was marvelous. Not to mention, I fell for Rev. Clare Ferguson and Russ van Alystyne, the Chief of Police, right away! They both felt like real people, not stereotypes, and while I was reading the book I was completely in their world. I even enjoyed the alternating narration, and regular blog readers know that I don’t often get along with multiple third person narrators. Now, my mom’s entire family lives in upstate New York, and I’ve visited frequently (but only in the summer), so that did give Spencer-Fleming a bit of an edge, but I think even those without an inherent interest in the geography will enjoy this. The writing is strong, the plot is tight (although I did guess the killer quite early on, I pretty much always do that, so no biggie), and the characters jump off the page. In fact, my mom and I both loved it so much we’ve already both read the second and have brought the third home (which my mom proceeded to stay up far past her bedtime reading that very night). :) Oh, and for those worried that this might be ‘inspirational fiction,’ I certainly wouldn’t categorise it as such; Clare, of course, is a priest and it includes stuff about her work getting settled into her new church, but Alystyne is an atheist and his view is just as represented. I never felt like I was being preached at, and neither did my mom.
Suggested Companion Reads
- Origin by Diana Abu-Jaber (Another suspense novel set in upstate NY during the winter! This one is more ‘literary thriller’ though.)
- Death in Holy Orders by P.D. James (One of James’ marvelous Dalgleish mystery series, it’s set in a seminary. This was my first James novel, so obviously I wasn’t too concerned about reading her stuff in order! She’s more of a ‘literary’ mystery writer than ‘puzzle’ one.)
- An Altar in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor (I’ve yet to blog about this nonfiction book by an Episcopal priest, but I loved it! It completely lives up to the subtitle A Geography of Faith and is about finding spirituality in everyday life.)
- A Morbid Taste for Bones by Ellis Peters (If you’re in the mood for another clerical sleuth, this is the first in a series featuring Brother Caedfel, medieval monk. Peters follows in that classic, Christie-puzzle style tradition.)