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In the Bleak Midwinter by Julia Spencer-Fleming (thoughts)

July 13, 2011

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.)
17 Comments leave one →
  1. July 13, 2011 7:36 am

    Isn’t this a lovely series? Happily, you will have several more in order to catch up to her current book published this year. I think what I remember most about IN THE BLEAK MIDWINTER is the pervasive sense of cold. It was one that I think I first read in the summer, but I craved hot drinks and blankets. And you know how odd that is for reading during this time of year in Texas. LOL

    • July 14, 2011 12:37 pm

      I’m trying to make the series last (so far just read through the second one), but my mom’s going to be caught up v soon at the rate she’s going! I just got #4 for her from the library, lol. And yeah, I *loved* the sense of cold!

  2. July 13, 2011 8:25 am

    Yay! I absolutely love this series, so it makes me glad when others pick it up and are just as impressed by it as I was.

  3. July 13, 2011 8:39 am

    Not my normal type of read, but I could see myself liking it… I may check it out one of these days.

    I hope you feel better soon! It’s sad when you vanish. :)

    • July 18, 2011 6:52 am

      I’ll be curious to see your thoughts if you do pick it up!

  4. July 13, 2011 9:26 am

    I rarely read mysteries and I tend to get tired of series, but I LOVE this one. I’ve read four and plan to read the fifth after I finish my Orange July reads.

  5. July 13, 2011 12:32 pm

    This sounds like one I would enjoy reading while sitting by the fire on a cold winter night!

  6. Marg permalink
    July 13, 2011 10:07 pm

    I read this not too long ago and really enjoyed it. Now I am reading the second one which is set in summer, and I am definitely feeling the heat of the summer as much as I did the freezing cold of the winter portrayed in this book.

  7. July 14, 2011 6:06 am

    I never heard of this one because I usually prefer old mystery books like Sir Arthur Doyle’s ones, but In the Bleak Midwinter looks like a great book (especially because it’s a mystery set in winter).

    • July 14, 2011 12:38 pm

      It’s got a bit of a puzzle structure to it like the old ones, in that there’s a limited circle of suspects with clues appearing along the way. So you might give it a go! Have you tried Laurie King’s Mary Russell series? If not, you should look into it!

  8. July 14, 2011 7:03 pm

    This is a series that I’ve been contemplating beginning for some time now. I’m really looking forward to reading it now after hearing your thoughts!

  9. July 15, 2011 2:21 am

    In the Bleak Midwinter is my favorite book read so far in July. I reviewed it here:

    One of my favorite parts of An Altar in the World was Taylor’s reverence for the beautiful knees of a saltmarsh mosquito. I ruminated on her words and a close-up photo of a saltmarsh mosquito, here:

    When I reviewed An Altar in the World, I included photos of my walking a small labyrinth near my home, just as Taylor did.

    I also reviewed Barbara Brown Taylor’s Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith, a book you may also like:

  10. July 15, 2011 4:12 pm

    I am so glad you like this series. It is so nervrecking recommending books that you love!

    • July 18, 2011 6:52 am

      Isn’t it?! I’ve thrust the Mary Russell series on several bloggers, and I’m always a bit terrified one of them isn’t going to like it. lol

  11. August 5, 2011 11:26 am

    Thanks for posting about this series — I’ve been eyeing it, but wondered if it would be too cosy for my liking. From your review, though, I think I’ll give it a try!


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