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In the Bleak Midwinter

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Clare Fergusson, St. Alban's new priest, fits like a square peg in the conservative Episcopal parish at Millers Kill, New York. She is not just a "lady," she's a tough ex-Army chopper pilot and nobody's fool. Then a newborn infant left at the church door brings her together with the town's Police Chief, Russ Van Alstyne, who's also ex-Army and a cynical good shepherd for t Clare Fergusson, St. Alban's new priest, fits like a square peg in the conservative Episcopal parish at Millers Kill, New York. She is not just a "lady," she's a tough ex-Army chopper pilot and nobody's fool. Then a newborn infant left at the church door brings her together with the town's Police Chief, Russ Van Alstyne, who's also ex-Army and a cynical good shepherd for the stray sheep of his hometown. Their search for the baby's mother quickly leads them into the secrets that shadow Millers Kill like the ever-present Adirondacks. What they discover is a world of trouble, an attraction to each other--and murder...


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Clare Fergusson, St. Alban's new priest, fits like a square peg in the conservative Episcopal parish at Millers Kill, New York. She is not just a "lady," she's a tough ex-Army chopper pilot and nobody's fool. Then a newborn infant left at the church door brings her together with the town's Police Chief, Russ Van Alstyne, who's also ex-Army and a cynical good shepherd for t Clare Fergusson, St. Alban's new priest, fits like a square peg in the conservative Episcopal parish at Millers Kill, New York. She is not just a "lady," she's a tough ex-Army chopper pilot and nobody's fool. Then a newborn infant left at the church door brings her together with the town's Police Chief, Russ Van Alstyne, who's also ex-Army and a cynical good shepherd for the stray sheep of his hometown. Their search for the baby's mother quickly leads them into the secrets that shadow Millers Kill like the ever-present Adirondacks. What they discover is a world of trouble, an attraction to each other--and murder...

30 review for In the Bleak Midwinter

  1. 5 out of 5

    Diana

    The mystery is the only reason I finished the book. I did not like Clare, I did not like Russ, I did not like the narrator. That pretty much sums it up. Knowing that many people whose opinions I respect adore this series and being aware of its awards, I have to just scratch my head and say "but not for me." As other less than favorable reviews have noted, the premise is fatally flawed. The author tells me that Clare is a smart, competent war veteran while showing me a wacky meddler with a dangero The mystery is the only reason I finished the book. I did not like Clare, I did not like Russ, I did not like the narrator. That pretty much sums it up. Knowing that many people whose opinions I respect adore this series and being aware of its awards, I have to just scratch my head and say "but not for me." As other less than favorable reviews have noted, the premise is fatally flawed. The author tells me that Clare is a smart, competent war veteran while showing me a wacky meddler with a dangerously low level of impulse control. She blurts out what she should keep in confidence and hares off into peril...repeatedly. And she's smug and self-righteous. Russ is at best a barely competent police chief. He allows Clare to take over his murder investigation. Why? I dunno. I'm puzzled as to why so many romance readers embrace Clare and Russ. He is married to a woman who is no more than an annoying stick figure and who remains conveniently out of town. Her unworthiness is explained as an overindulgence in window treatments and that she wants to start her own business. Oh, the horror. Clare careens from one TSTL moment to another, always unprepared and laughably underdressed for the bleak midwinter weather. Both Clare and Russ are old enough and experienced enough to grasp the fact that they're playing with fire, yet they're blindsided and outraged when the inevitable small town gossip starts. Hello? Cap off all this with a narrator whose Virginia drawl is a mile off base and who reads Russ in weird Daffy Duck voice, and I'm done.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Kathleen Valentine

    Clever Murder Mystery or Cheesy Romance Novel? You Decide. Because it is so hot right now I got this bright idea to cool things off by reading a book that had a very chilly setting. I'd read good things about Julia Spencer-Fleming's In The Bleak Midwinter and, since I had a copy handy, I decided to give it a read. As a murder mystery it is pretty good, clever, well-paced – I didn't figure it out prematurely. The setting, in the Adirondacks in winter, was excellent, the writing was good, the plot m Clever Murder Mystery or Cheesy Romance Novel? You Decide. Because it is so hot right now I got this bright idea to cool things off by reading a book that had a very chilly setting. I'd read good things about Julia Spencer-Fleming's In The Bleak Midwinter and, since I had a copy handy, I decided to give it a read. As a murder mystery it is pretty good, clever, well-paced – I didn't figure it out prematurely. The setting, in the Adirondacks in winter, was excellent, the writing was good, the plot moved along. I very, very much liked the charcter of Russ Van Alstyne, the local sheriff. He was charming and smart and had a nice balance of brains and bluff. There were some interesting, sympathetic minor characters.... and then there was Clare Fergusson. Excuse me The Reverend Clare Fergusson, the town's new Anglican priest. Former military helicopter pilot, gourmet cook, wise-cracking smart-mouth who wears cool clothes (when not in her clericals), listens to cool music, drives a very, very cool car, and is a tough don't-mess-with-me cookie. In my frequent rants about annoying heroines in romance – and other – novels, I have often complained about the three things that can cause me to heave the book at a wall: 1. the scene where the hero just happens to see the heroine dancing (for sheer joy) without her knowledge and decides she is just too adorable. 2. the scene where the hero says or does something relatively innocuous and the heroine takes umbrage and stomps off in high dudgeon like a spoiled brat. 3. the scene where the heroine does something ridiculously impulsive that no woman in her right mind would do thus putting herself in peril so that the hero has to rescue her and make everything all right (and notice how cute and vulnerable she is in the process.) Sad to say, Reverend Clare, the Episcopal priest, does all three. One I could have handled but all three??? One night good old Russ (who is a married man, by the way) stops by the rectory and, through the kitchen door, just happens to witness the Rev. Clare, in a cut-off sweatshirt, dancing while she whips up a gourmet meal – which she subsequently feeds him. A few scenes later the Rev. Clare gets her patrician nose out of joint because she thinks Russ was being rude and she stomps out into the snowy night in her adorable designer suede boots and leather bomber jacket and stomps all the way back to the rectory, refusing Russ's offer for a ride when he followers her. And finally, after a torturous ride back from Albany, worrying all the way about her adorable little sports car in the on-coming blizzard, the Rev. Clare finds a mysterious message for her to meet someone at a cabin deep in the woods (in an area she has never been to) and, instantly, jumps into said adorable sports car and zooms off to the rescue. Luckily, good old Dudley Dooright Russ finds out in time and comes to the rescue – which gives him the opportunity to get her out of her flimsy, ice-caked clothes. Sigh. Look, this was a good story and there were some good characters in it and, for the most part, I liked it. I will even go so far as to say that if Clare had been a social worker or a new cop or a teacher or anything else, I might have liked her a little better. But a priest??? Yes, I know priests are people, too – heaven knows I just wrote a book about an all-too-human priest. What really bothered me about it was that, other than going to parish meetings, saying a few prayers here and there, and mentions of services she was officiating at, this priest had not the faintest evidence of any level of spirituality. Consequently, every mention of her “priesthood” might as well have had blinking letters that read “gimmick, gimmick, gimmick.” Obviously people like these books as there are more in the series. Chances are I might even read another one myself but when are genre writers going to stop concocting these formula-driven, ridiculous, insult-to-womanhood characters? As a mystery, I give this book a 4. As a romance, I give it a 2. So I'm splitting the difference with a 3 – because I like Russ. But I think he's headed down a dangerous slope and I don't think the local priest is going to help him avoid any more near-occasions-of-sin.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Kathy

    I am an avaricious consumer of mystery series, but there are so many stand-alone books that I want and need to read right now that yet another delectable series is an unwise choice. Well, too late. I read the first in the Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne, In the Bleak Midwinter, and once again, I'm hooked. Julia Spencer-Fleming is another Bouchercon 2013 author that I wanted to sample before the September gathering, and I duped myself into believing that I could indeed eat just one. I will begin I am an avaricious consumer of mystery series, but there are so many stand-alone books that I want and need to read right now that yet another delectable series is an unwise choice. Well, too late. I read the first in the Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne, In the Bleak Midwinter, and once again, I'm hooked. Julia Spencer-Fleming is another Bouchercon 2013 author that I wanted to sample before the September gathering, and I duped myself into believing that I could indeed eat just one. I will begin #2 today. This series, set in the shadows of the Adirondack mountains in the small town of Millers Kill, features ex-Amy helicopter pilot, newly ordained Episcopalian priest Clare Fergusson and ex-Army, present-day police chief Russ Van Alstyne. Clare is the first female priest at the Episcopal church in Millers Kill, and is quite different than her conventional predecessor. When only after a month on the job, she discovers a newborn baby abandoned outside the church, Clare quickly becomes involved in the search for its parents and the subsequent murder of the baby's mother. As rapid as her involvement in the resolution to these mysteries and ones to follow, her friendship with Russ Van Alstyne, the chief of police, takes the fast trak to closeness and trusted confidant. Of course, the chief is married, which creates a stumbling block to a more intimate relationship. In solving not one, but two murders, Clare and Russ come to rely on one another's intelligence and intuition, moving in sync as two partners with different skills that mirror in a complimentary efficiency. It's always so satisfying to encounter yet another author whose manipulation of the language results in a spine-tingling tale. Julia Spencer-Fleming is extraordinarily gifted in her skill of description, including settiing, action, and characters. I was truly amazed at the detail of description in those areas, and it made the story so complete. There is no fuzzy, half-hearted imagery in Ms. Spencer-Fleming's writing. The reader is treated to complete disclosure of what a place looks like, what a character's physical and emotional make-up is, and what the action would look like if you were there. The twists and turns of the plot are page-turning pleasures. Now, on to the next adventure/mystery of the Clare and Russ team. Again, my reading pile groans with the weight of of books waiting.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Kate

    Apparently, this book won all sorts of awards and got glowing reviews in several respected publications, including my hometown Washington Post. My only question is whether I read the same book as everyone else? I found this book to be predictable, tedious, poorly plotted and characterized. The main characters - there were two - were both conflicted, but their conflicts were sterotypical and the intersection of those conflicts telegraphed with every paragraph. The points of view shifted around - Apparently, this book won all sorts of awards and got glowing reviews in several respected publications, including my hometown Washington Post. My only question is whether I read the same book as everyone else? I found this book to be predictable, tedious, poorly plotted and characterized. The main characters - there were two - were both conflicted, but their conflicts were sterotypical and the intersection of those conflicts telegraphed with every paragraph. The points of view shifted around - something that was daring with Faulkner, but confusing with this author. Finally, everyone in the book uses the Internet, but no one - not the cops or the teenagers - has a cell telephone. One cell phone and the whole plot would have crumbled under the weight of too many serendipitous coincidences. The only thing I enjoyed in this book were the descriptions of the winter countryside - the author has clearly spent some time in the Adirondacks.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Jacob Proffitt

    I finished this a couple days ago (and the next three in the series) and I'm still having a hard time putting my reaction into words. As my teen daughter would say, the feels are just too big. So I'm going to do my best on this one and hope it applies to the series as a whole as much as to this specific book and keep it relatively general (because there's no way I'll be able to do this for every book in the series and I don't plan on being so detailed in future volumes). While the book is structu I finished this a couple days ago (and the next three in the series) and I'm still having a hard time putting my reaction into words. As my teen daughter would say, the feels are just too big. So I'm going to do my best on this one and hope it applies to the series as a whole as much as to this specific book and keep it relatively general (because there's no way I'll be able to do this for every book in the series and I don't plan on being so detailed in future volumes). While the book is structured as a mystery, that's actually the weakest aspect of the novel. It's not that hard to piece the whodunit together and really, I find that I don't much care. About the mystery. What makes the book stand-out fantastic is the characters and relationships. And I don't just mean the main characters, though that's the best part. Clare is an Episcopalian priest in a small town in the Adirondacks. She is warm, kind, active, and caring in a way that true Christians strive to be. Which would make her cloying if she weren't so honestly and perfectly human at the same time. The members of her congregation are all fully-developed, complex people of faith as well with a realistic (in my experience, anyway) mixture of kind and venal, saints and hypocrites working together (often in a single person), sometimes overcoming their basest instincts and sometimes not. This book would stand out as one of the best depictions of an honest Christian community even if it never got to the second part of what makes it so awesome. Russ is the chief of police in this small town. He's a true and honest servant of his people, working to keep peace in a town fallen on hard times and with a hearty mixture of the desperate and the priveleged—a potentially explosive combination. He has integrity in spades and an honest devotion to the law and doing what's right. He's also heavily married. Clare and Russ are the highlight of the book as their relationship grows from honest trust and respect (with minor, uh, and major, bumps along the way) to something... more. By the end, it is absolutely heartbreaking as Russ and Clare become aware of what the reader has suspected for some time—that they are perfectly matched, almost made for each other and that they have no way of doing anything about it without breaking both of them into something less than they are now. The poignancy of this is heartbreaking in its tragedy and purity and humanity. Which makes it seem like the book would be heavy. But that's the genius of Julia Spencer-Fleming—she manages to pull off that powerful emotional impact without losing the hope that lies at the heart of faith and integrity. It is easy to forget that Christianity is, at heart, a faith for the fallen and that its promise isn't ease or success or protection from harm but rather comfort in affliction and the eventual achievement of grace. Infusing a hint of grace into the promise of heartbreak (and making both real and powerful) is an amazing achievement and I am so happy to have found it in this story.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Gillian

    Goodreads let me down on this one. I was at a loss as to what to read next so I turned to the reviews here. I didn't hate this book but I almost did. The characters were almost interesting and the plot was almost gripping. It needed to be a lot shorter and it easily could have been if you'd cut out all the details about the curtain swags, and people crossing and uncrossing their arms, and standing up and sitting down, or lord help me "swiping whip cream off his mustache." I get that these detail Goodreads let me down on this one. I was at a loss as to what to read next so I turned to the reviews here. I didn't hate this book but I almost did. The characters were almost interesting and the plot was almost gripping. It needed to be a lot shorter and it easily could have been if you'd cut out all the details about the curtain swags, and people crossing and uncrossing their arms, and standing up and sitting down, or lord help me "swiping whip cream off his mustache." I get that these details were supposed to add richness and in a deft hand they may have but here they felt pounded in by some well-meaning editor. Also, the female main character was supposed to be this amazingly well-trained ex-military person but she couldn't even figure out that she should take a quick trip to Target and pick up a decent pair of boots when it was snowing a freezing outside. Just too dumb for me. When she kept getting caught in her "thin leather boots" in horrible situations snow-falling situations, I had had enough.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Mackey

    In the Bleak Midwinter is the beginning of a series featuring Rev. Clare Fergusson and Det. Russ Van Alstyne. I picked it up to read after finishing a later book in the series and realized that I needed some back story. Set in a small New England town, these two have a chemistry that makes the books more interesting than I would have suspected. The crimes, generally, are not too gruesome but the writing style lends to a more "crime fiction" genre than cozy mystery. I highly enjoyed this one and In the Bleak Midwinter is the beginning of a series featuring Rev. Clare Fergusson and Det. Russ Van Alstyne. I picked it up to read after finishing a later book in the series and realized that I needed some back story. Set in a small New England town, these two have a chemistry that makes the books more interesting than I would have suspected. The crimes, generally, are not too gruesome but the writing style lends to a more "crime fiction" genre than cozy mystery. I highly enjoyed this one and intend to read the entire series now.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Red

    This book was a good beach book, perfect to read on a hot summer day because it takes place in a very cold New England winter. I'm not a huge mystery reader, but I enjoyed this book. I liked the police character, I liked the amateur sleuth, I liked the small town, I liked the supporting characters, and I didn't figure out who done it ahead of time. Our protagonist, Claire, is an Episcopalian priest, who in her previous career was an Army chopper pilot. The police chief is your basic rugged New En This book was a good beach book, perfect to read on a hot summer day because it takes place in a very cold New England winter. I'm not a huge mystery reader, but I enjoyed this book. I liked the police character, I liked the amateur sleuth, I liked the small town, I liked the supporting characters, and I didn't figure out who done it ahead of time. Our protagonist, Claire, is an Episcopalian priest, who in her previous career was an Army chopper pilot. The police chief is your basic rugged New England Marlboro man. He is married, there is sexual tension. Murder ensues. This volume is the first in a series of "Rev. Clare" books. I liked it enough to read the second one. I must admit that I want to know if Chief Van Alstyne is going to dump his wife for the Reverend. I wonder if the author will make the wife have an affair and ask for a divorce so the Chief won't be the bad guy, but will be available, and if so how many books de we have to do the "will they or won't they dance"? I already have the second book, so I will read it and see how fast or slow this relationship is going to run, and then I may just read online reviews of the latest stories in the series to see where they are. I hate the long drawn out, they might do it this time, game. (Think Stephanie Plum) Edit (3 years later): The author must do a lot right, because not only have I gone on to read the 2nd book, but I've continued through the whole series, liking each successive book even more. This is definitely a series that is worth the ride! Edit (6 years later): It's now been long enough that I don't remember what happened in this first book, so I bought the Audible version (on sale for about $5 to suck you into the series) to take on a marathon road trip, with about 40 hours of drive time). We're halfway through the trip and the book. The narrator isn't anywhere near Rev. Clare's voice in my head, but I got used to her pretty quickly. I like the way she does the support characters a lot.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Cyndi

    Good beginning for this series. Like the story better than the characters so far. 11/11/19 My bookclub is reading this book this month so I thought it would be an excellent time to reread. Had to. I’ve read more books in this series (and loved them, BTW). If I didn’t reread this one I might (would) have dropped some spoilers at the meeting. Now I know where to stop (we hope) when I extol the romance, the action, the 🤐 Nope, I am not going to drop any spoilers. This is an excellent book by an ama Good beginning for this series. Like the story better than the characters so far. 11/11/19 My bookclub is reading this book this month so I thought it would be an excellent time to reread. Had to. I’ve read more books in this series (and loved them, BTW). If I didn’t reread this one I might (would) have dropped some spoilers at the meeting. Now I know where to stop (we hope) when I extol the romance, the action, the 🤐 Nope, I am not going to drop any spoilers. This is an excellent book by an amazing author!! Grab them, enjoy and get ready for the 9th book in the series coming out in April 2020. 💕

  10. 4 out of 5

    Chaitra

    Part way through the book I was certain I'd found a new favorite series. Then, around page 100, I figured out who the killer was. This isn't a deal-breaker - I usually identify the killer, but sometimes the how and why of it keeps me riveted. Not so here, because that's obvious too. To make matters worse, the main character, the Reverend, convinced of her own righteousness, jumps into one stupid situation after another with little thought to consequences. I cared for the other main character eve Part way through the book I was certain I'd found a new favorite series. Then, around page 100, I figured out who the killer was. This isn't a deal-breaker - I usually identify the killer, but sometimes the how and why of it keeps me riveted. Not so here, because that's obvious too. To make matters worse, the main character, the Reverend, convinced of her own righteousness, jumps into one stupid situation after another with little thought to consequences. I cared for the other main character even less, because I hadn't much faith in his ability to solve anything, which he ultimately proved. Even forgetting the fact that there was a pastor who was out there doing amateur detecting while privy to everything the police knew, there were so many things that bothered me about the procedure. (view spoiler)[I don't care how understaffed you are, why would your entire legwork consist of showing pictures of the dead girl at one(!) church? This, while someone on your staff goes deer hunting. Why would you voluntarily give out information to a teenager that the murdered girl was pregnant, and that you think her ex-lover was responsible? And then not confront the ex-lover immediately? The chief even takes a leisure day in between to drive his wife somewhere. And why would the cops not go to wherever it was she worked before going to college to check if they knew anything of her mystery lover? (hide spoiler)] Well, I had hopes. My library doesn't stock the rest of the series, which is probably just as well.

  11. 5 out of 5

    John

    I found this book very heavy going for the first two-thirds or so, and several times was on the point of abandoning it, but in the third reel it picked up a great deal of pace -- essentially, when it stopped being just an infuriatingly self-indulgent, rather vapid mystery and started being a thriller. Spencer-Fleming does action sequences pretty well; interpersonal relationships, not so much. Clare Fergusson is the new priest at one of the churches in a small town, Millers Kill ("kill" = river; n I found this book very heavy going for the first two-thirds or so, and several times was on the point of abandoning it, but in the third reel it picked up a great deal of pace -- essentially, when it stopped being just an infuriatingly self-indulgent, rather vapid mystery and started being a thriller. Spencer-Fleming does action sequences pretty well; interpersonal relationships, not so much. Clare Fergusson is the new priest at one of the churches in a small town, Millers Kill ("kill" = river; not sure why it's "Millers" rather than "Miller's"), in upstate New York. It's the depths of winter. Clare finds a baby left on the church steps, with a note that the child's name is Cody and that he should be given for adoption to a wealthy local couple. A little over a week later the murdered body of a young woman is discovered, and it's determined that she gave birth not long before she died. Local police chief Russ Van Alstyne investigates, helped and hindered by Clare, for whom, although married, he develops the hots. There's another murder, and slowly Russ and Clare begin to put the pieces together. Put the accent on the "slowly." As a single example, on pages 58-9 we have perhaps 300 words during which we establish that Russ likes Clare's coffee because she uses Jamaican blue roast, blended with Colombian beans, adds "a little ground hazelnut and cinnamon" . . . and on and on it goes until, dear reader, some of us wanted to wring Clare's neck. Throughout the book there are bits and pieces of Christian propaganda thrown at us, like the (male) pathologist who gets in an anti-abortion dig; this sits oddly with the fact that priest Clare, who served in the armed forces before taking orders, proudly drinks from a DEATH FROM THE SKY! mug. Yup. That's what Jesus wanted, all right: people dropping explosives, incendiaries and white phosphorus on kids. Well before the end it becomes pretty obvious who the other killer is, and why the killer killed. This might irritate any reader seeking a straightforward mystery tale. It's also at about this point, though, that -- luckily for me, at least -- the tale shifted to action, as Clare is stalked by and retaliates against a mysterious figure in the midst of a snow-bound waste. That action is all slightly implausible -- she must have astonishing eyesight at night in a blizzard in a forested terrain -- but it's well enough written that I didn't care. Overall, I felt as if I were being asked to wade through way too much -- not just the religious propaganda but the overwriting and the smugness -- for the sake of the good bits.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Sharon Huether

    A police chief and a woman priest team up to solve several mysteries and murders in a small town during the winter. The characters are real and the plot full of imagination. There are surprises in the outcome. Great book.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Christa

    Read in Febuary 2009, again in June 2009, in January 2011, January 2015, and January 2019. A great start to one of my top two or three favorite series!

  14. 4 out of 5

    Wanda

    I never know these days when I pick up a mystery whether it will be a hit or a miss—I have read so many of them at this point that I’ve become pretty picky. So I was pleasantly surprised by this selection—for a first book of a series, it was great. First off, I enjoyed the author’s style. I was never distracted by the words, I was able to immerse myself in the world of Millers Kill, N.Y. and go with the flow. Secondly, I really connected with her two main characters, Rev. Claire Fergusson and the I never know these days when I pick up a mystery whether it will be a hit or a miss—I have read so many of them at this point that I’ve become pretty picky. So I was pleasantly surprised by this selection—for a first book of a series, it was great. First off, I enjoyed the author’s style. I was never distracted by the words, I was able to immerse myself in the world of Millers Kill, N.Y. and go with the flow. Secondly, I really connected with her two main characters, Rev. Claire Fergusson and the Chief of Police, Russ Van Alstyne. I loved Clare’s independence, the unexpectedness of her being an Episcopalian priest, being ex-army, driving an impractical hot little red car, and learning the ins and outs of this new community where she has been hired. I also couldn’t help liking Russ, who grew up in the community and has returned after his army career. Just like Agatha Christie, Spencer-Fleming has chosen a small town as a setting for her story. It gives Clare and Russ a much better knowledge of the people around them, making the crime-solving aspect much more informed and interesting. Solving murders in a big city involves much more luck, while these mysteries set in small communities allow for much more exploration of the human decisions that pull people into criminal acts. Unlike so many series where I’ve sampled one book and feel no need to follow up, I suspect I will catch up with Claire and Russ again in the near future!

  15. 5 out of 5

    Juliann Blake

    Actually 4 1/2* Let’s just say that I zoomed through the last third of the book, loved the ending. We have a police chief and a female priest in an Adirondacks small community. A newly born infant is found on the priest’s doorstep. Did I mention the police chief is married? The priest is a woman of strong faith and of daring. I will definitely be getting the next book in the series : )

  16. 4 out of 5

    Olivermagnus

    In the first book of the series we are introduced to Russ Van Alstyne, Chief of Police in the small town of Miller's Kill, New York and the Reverend Clare Ferguson, newly ordained priest of St. Alban's Episcopal Church and former Army helicopter pilot. They meet when Clare finds a newborn baby wrapped in blankets outside the church. The person who left the baby also left a note asking that the baby be given to a local couple who have been desperate to adopt a child, Geoffrey and Karen Burns. Sinc In the first book of the series we are introduced to Russ Van Alstyne, Chief of Police in the small town of Miller's Kill, New York and the Reverend Clare Ferguson, newly ordained priest of St. Alban's Episcopal Church and former Army helicopter pilot. They meet when Clare finds a newborn baby wrapped in blankets outside the church. The person who left the baby also left a note asking that the baby be given to a local couple who have been desperate to adopt a child, Geoffrey and Karen Burns. Since the Burns' are also members of the church Van Alstyne thinks there may be some connection to one of the birth parents. Clare asks Russ to accompany him on his patrol one night and they discover a young murdered girl who turns out to be the baby's mother. As they continue to investigate, the married agnostic chief and the impulsive priest become attracted to each other. They have a lot in common even though it might not seem like it. They both have a need to pursue justice, one through the law and one through religious convictions. The relationship between Russ and Clare is well done and I'm curious to see how it progresses. Don't be put off by the fact that one of the protagonists is a priest. Clare is much more than that. The religious aspects of the mystery are not heavy handed at all. The pacing is action packed and the author creates a very vivid Adirondack winter atmosphere. My only complaint about the book is the way Clare is constantly dashing off and putting herself in jeopardy. It reminds me of those movies where the audience knows the serial killer is inside the house and the heroine goes in alone. It seemed a tad unbelievable to me. I won't that keep me from discovering what happens in the next book of this entertaining series.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Melissa McShane

    Wow, this was really good! The mystery kept me guessing, yes, and I really enjoyed seeing Clare doing her priestly duties--I love stories in which religious people are portrayed as not crazy or venal or misguided. There's a good tension between Russ as the hard-headed, cynical cop and Clare as the more optimistic, generous priest, especially since neither of them is stereotypically so. But what I loved was the developing relationship between Russ and Clare, how I could see where it was going eve Wow, this was really good! The mystery kept me guessing, yes, and I really enjoyed seeing Clare doing her priestly duties--I love stories in which religious people are portrayed as not crazy or venal or misguided. There's a good tension between Russ as the hard-headed, cynical cop and Clare as the more optimistic, generous priest, especially since neither of them is stereotypically so. But what I loved was the developing relationship between Russ and Clare, how I could see where it was going even though they couldn't. It's interesting that Russ's wife Linda was only present in her absence, only appeared off-stage. It suggests that Russ and Linda have drifted apart, and that they don't have a lot in common (and may never have had) but not that their marriage is irredeemable or that this justifies any feelings that might be developing between Clare and Russ. I'm definitely looking forward to the rest of the series.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Lightreads

    Hey, I liked this! I don’t like many traditional mysteries. Though to be fair, I don’t actually like this mystery qua mystery. He’s the police chief of a tiny, upstate New York town. She’s a former army pilot turned Episcopal priest. (She’s improbable in that way that makes a character seem more real, instead of less, if you know what I mean). They solve crime, yeah, whatever. But mostly they have this slow-blooming connection. This book is about them becoming friends in this wonderful, organic, Hey, I liked this! I don’t like many traditional mysteries. Though to be fair, I don’t actually like this mystery qua mystery. He’s the police chief of a tiny, upstate New York town. She’s a former army pilot turned Episcopal priest. (She’s improbable in that way that makes a character seem more real, instead of less, if you know what I mean). They solve crime, yeah, whatever. But mostly they have this slow-blooming connection. This book is about them becoming friends in this wonderful, organic, completely believable way. They are sexually neutralized to each other – he’s married and she’s a priest – so they come together free from most of the usual romance bullshit. Just two interesting, conflicted, smart, ethical people who don’t notice that they’re falling until it’s way too late. Really nice.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Jean

    I would rate this 3.5. A female priest and the Chief of Police join forces to solve two murderes and the mystery of a baby left on the church rectory steps. In a small town in Up-State, NY. Clare is characterized as intelligent though at times pushy and at other times going beyond the expected for a non-authorized police snoop. Spencer-Fleming does hold one's attention and expertly keeps readers guessing until the mystery is finally solved. I look forward to seeing where the physical attraction I would rate this 3.5. A female priest and the Chief of Police join forces to solve two murderes and the mystery of a baby left on the church rectory steps. In a small town in Up-State, NY. Clare is characterized as intelligent though at times pushy and at other times going beyond the expected for a non-authorized police snoop. Spencer-Fleming does hold one's attention and expertly keeps readers guessing until the mystery is finally solved. I look forward to seeing where the physical attraction between Chief Russ (married) and Reverend Clare heads in future books.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Alicia (is beyond tired of your *ish)

    I have read this book twice now within six months. It only got better upon the second reading. The story wasn't what I thought it was going to be from the blurb because of their relationship statuses in the book. So it had me worried for a very long time. I think that was the reason for the four stars I gave the book after the first time I read it. I'm going to try to keep this review to the first book alone, though it's hard as I want to comment on what comes later. I apologize if I fail at it, I have read this book twice now within six months. It only got better upon the second reading. The story wasn't what I thought it was going to be from the blurb because of their relationship statuses in the book. So it had me worried for a very long time. I think that was the reason for the four stars I gave the book after the first time I read it. I'm going to try to keep this review to the first book alone, though it's hard as I want to comment on what comes later. I apologize if I fail at it, but there won't be any spoilers. I love Julia Spencer-Fleming's writing style. It is descriptive without being over-flowery. There are no lines that stand out as trying too hard, she has a very consistent voice. She sets scenes that draw you into what's happening in an almost effortless way. It can dip into a bit of the cliche, but it never really dives in. Fleming doesn't write a mystery that drops clues along the way, allowing the reader to play junior detective along with the characters. You get the information as the characters do and it's a snaking vine that keeps you guessing but never allows you to get it right. I'm sure some people will hate that because they love trying to put clues together, but I really liked not being bored with the mystery because it was so easy to tell whodunit. The story is engrossing, and there are definitely a few edge of your seat moments. One that happens on a snowy mountain that I just love. Though this scene and the climatic ending do veer somewhat into head scratching territory it's easy to forgive because they're so absorbing. The number one thing Fleming does best is characters. I'm a character driven person. I can forgive a lot of things in a story if I love the characters, and a decent story will be terrible to me if I hate the characters. The love I have for this series is very much tied to my love for Russ Van Alstyne and Clare Fergusson. Both are very strong characters, intelligent, with great senses of humor. They're both stubborn (and that trait definitely gets her into trouble) and can set each other off, but they also listen to each other well (most of the time). I love that they're not perfect. They don't always make the right choices (and the choices they have to make get harder and harder). You would think that would be the case with a priest, but she has to fight her pride, her stubbornness, her emotions, and temptation. She has to question herself and her calling. The two have some similarities but they are also very different. For instance, Russ is clear about being an atheist and Clare is an Episcopalian priest. They certainly have their theological discussions but he doesn't really impugn her beliefs and she never preaches at anyone who doesn't ask her to. That's another thing I love so much about her. Throughout the series I found myself wishing they were real and my friends too many times to count. Their friendship is so effortless and such a joy to read. They get each other on such a fundamental level. And the reader gets to see that! It is so rare now that a reader gets to actually see a relationship begin and unfold instead of being told that it happened. We're given many conversations, joking around and even arguments. I never feel as though I have to take anything about them on faith. We can even see when it begins to evolve into something more. It was fun picking up on things I didn't notice before the second time I read it. Almost everything about their friendship just makes me happy. I start to flail and then I end up a lot like this guy: The secondary characters are just as easily likable, or they can be annoying or rage inducing, but that's their purpose and they're always well drawn and compelling. Even when they're doing things I don't understand. So, if you can't already tell from my rare, effusive gushing (that I still feel doesn't do this story justice), I heavily recommend picking up this book. Then I dare you to not devour the next six books in the series. I read all of them within a month and that was on top of reading other books, moving, and breaking bones.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Ellen

    This book won awards? REALLY??? I just finished reading it only because I thought it had to get better - but it doesn't! It reads like a self published ebook from an author without the benefit of a writer's group or a good editor. There are so many elements of this book that will test your willing suspension of disbelief. The main character, Claire, is a priest who would in real life be kicked out of her church immediately for her interactions with the sheriff (who is married) and for the way she This book won awards? REALLY??? I just finished reading it only because I thought it had to get better - but it doesn't! It reads like a self published ebook from an author without the benefit of a writer's group or a good editor. There are so many elements of this book that will test your willing suspension of disbelief. The main character, Claire, is a priest who would in real life be kicked out of her church immediately for her interactions with the sheriff (who is married) and for the way she handles her clue gathering relating to a mystery revolving around her church members. She's supposed to be a tough ex soldier who has completed survival training but doesn't have the good sense to go to Walmart to buy proper winter footwear after moving to a snowy, mountainous area in the winter. She's been to seminary but she doesn't know when and where it's appropriate to counsel a married man. She charges around accusing and confronting her most influential parishioners as soon as she collects another clue or has a hunch. She can't be bothered to unpack moving boxes and get settled in the parsonage but she has suddenly unpacked her kitchen and decorated the room when one evening she cooks a gourmet meal to serve the married sheriff who just happens to stop by. The sheriff doesn't know how to identify a young woman murder victim or run a murder investigation. Instead of starting with local high school administrators and teachers for identification, like most small town police departments would, he goes to Claire's church to flash morgue photos of the murdered girl at coffee hour after the service. He lets Claire horn in on his investigation no matter how crazy or impulsive her actions are. He doesn't follow up on questioning the murder victim's roommates after police in the victim's college town have made initial contact, even though the roommates would have information on her actions in the weeks before her death. He doesn't send an investigator to search the victim's apartment. He has a wife with a very successful business and he isn't proud of her and he doesn't seem to call her when she's out of town on a buying trip. He suggests the priest leave her little sports car that can't make it through heavy snow on outside his house over a snowy night, seemingly unaware of small town gossip or the possibility of his wife finding out. The unbelievable plot twists and character actions go on and on. By far the most unattractive thing about the book is the romance between a female priest and a MARRIED sheriff, portrayed in a favorable light. Unless you are a cheater yourself, this is not hero and heroine behavior most people want to read about. I recommend passing on this series.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Trin

    Mystery in which a male cop and a female (Episcopalian) priest in a small upstate New York town team up to fight crime! I liked this more than I expected to. Russ (the cop) and Clare (the priest) are both complex, realistic characters, and I really enjoyed how the relationship between them was developed. The way they find common ground and begin to seek out and crave each other’s company felt very natural and wonderfully genderless, if you know what I mean, and after reading a lot of crappy, wei Mystery in which a male cop and a female (Episcopalian) priest in a small upstate New York town team up to fight crime! I liked this more than I expected to. Russ (the cop) and Clare (the priest) are both complex, realistic characters, and I really enjoyed how the relationship between them was developed. The way they find common ground and begin to seek out and crave each other’s company felt very natural and wonderfully genderless, if you know what I mean, and after reading a lot of crappy, weirdly misogynistic romance novels, it was very refreshing to see two people become attracted to each other as people. They solve the crime at the novel’s center based on a combination of their respective skills, and I really liked all the scenes where they just…enjoy each other’s competence. The sexual tension is well drawn out in general; Spencer-Fleming makes good use of Russ’ (and possibly her readers’) ignorance about various denominational differences in a fun scene where Russ discovers that no, Clare has not, in fact, taken a vow of celibacy—though that doesn’t change the fact that Russ is married. UST FTW! As for the mystery plot itself, aside from one “I’ll just follow the instructions in this telephone message of dubious origin and go out to a cabin in the middle of the woods by myself in a snowstorm without telling anyone” moment, which actually had me sending keyboard-mashing IMs to Siria, there aren’t too many bad mystery clichés or examples of terminal character stupidity. Overall, I really enjoyed it, and look forward to reading the next book in the series when my mood rolls around that way again.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Guylou (Two Dogs and a Book)

    I received an ARC related to this series from Minotaur Books and thought it would be a good idea to familiarize myself with the characters by reading the first book in the series. This book was a fantastic read. I tried to guess who the murderer was all along but failed. This is a sign of a great book. In this book, we are introduced to Rev. Clare Fergusson, a female priest who just moved in the upstate New York town of Millers Kill, and to Russ Van Alstyne, Chief of Police in the same town. Aft I received an ARC related to this series from Minotaur Books and thought it would be a good idea to familiarize myself with the characters by reading the first book in the series. This book was a fantastic read. I tried to guess who the murderer was all along but failed. This is a sign of a great book. In this book, we are introduced to Rev. Clare Fergusson, a female priest who just moved in the upstate New York town of Millers Kill, and to Russ Van Alstyne, Chief of Police in the same town. After a baby boy is left at the doors of the church and a young woman is found dead, Clare and Russ team up to try to figure out if the two are related. Their investigation will lead them to many suspects and as they get closer to the truth, danger is also knocking at their doors. This was a great read and I am looking forward to reading Hid From Our Eyes by the same author. #poodles #poodlestagram #poodlesofinstagram #furbabies #dogsofinstagram #bookstagram #dogsandbooks #bookishlife #bookishlove #bookstagrammer #book #books #booklover #bookish #bookaholic #reading #readersofinstagram #instaread #ilovebooks #bookishcanadians #canadianbookstagram #bookreviewer #bookcommunity #bibliophile #bookphotography #inthebleakmidwinter #juliaspencerfleming #bookreview #mystery

  24. 5 out of 5

    Judy

    Since I went counter to my rule of always reading a series in order, and read a later title of the series (and liked it), I decided to continue with the series from the beginning. I really like the two main characters, and how they work together. One of my GRs friends mentioned the fact that we never meet Russ's wife, Linda, wonders what she was like. It's a good point, but my take is that there isn't the chemistry between she and Russ that seems to be developing between he and Clare. It's a ver Since I went counter to my rule of always reading a series in order, and read a later title of the series (and liked it), I decided to continue with the series from the beginning. I really like the two main characters, and how they work together. One of my GRs friends mentioned the fact that we never meet Russ's wife, Linda, wonders what she was like. It's a good point, but my take is that there isn't the chemistry between she and Russ that seems to be developing between he and Clare. It's a very good plot and mystery, IMHO, and suspenseful, too. The narrator of the audio version is good, too. I will continue with the series and hope I can listen to many of them.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Patty

    Powerful writing, fascinating relationships, unusual occupations. This one is outstanding and I can understand why it won some awards. Claire Fergusson is an Episcopal Priest, on the job for all of a month when she first meets Russ Von Alsytyne. The occasion is the finding of a baby on the church doorstep. From there the suspense in this one builds and spirals and just about forces you to keep reading. I'm late coming into this series but can't wait to get onto the next episode. I love a book wit Powerful writing, fascinating relationships, unusual occupations. This one is outstanding and I can understand why it won some awards. Claire Fergusson is an Episcopal Priest, on the job for all of a month when she first meets Russ Von Alsytyne. The occasion is the finding of a baby on the church doorstep. From there the suspense in this one builds and spirals and just about forces you to keep reading. I'm late coming into this series but can't wait to get onto the next episode. I love a book with strong characters who also have their vulnerable points.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Donna

    Great start to a series that currently extends to 6 books. Former helicopter pilot turned Episcopalian priest Clare Fergusson and police chief Russ Van Alstyne are interesting and complex but still believable characters and I am sure their relationship will continue to be a central part of the series. The mystery in this book was complex with plenty of twists, turns, and surprises. Add the well described setting and a cast of local residents and you can see why this book won a number of first boo Great start to a series that currently extends to 6 books. Former helicopter pilot turned Episcopalian priest Clare Fergusson and police chief Russ Van Alstyne are interesting and complex but still believable characters and I am sure their relationship will continue to be a central part of the series. The mystery in this book was complex with plenty of twists, turns, and surprises. Add the well described setting and a cast of local residents and you can see why this book won a number of first book awards.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Charlsa

    This is a thoroughly enjoyable mystery. It doesn't leave obvious clues, the character development is well-done, and the story is engaging. It has a coziness to it that makes it comforting, and it kept me up late at night because I didn't want to put it down. It feels like a fall series, so I'll continue it at that time. This is a thoroughly enjoyable mystery. It doesn't leave obvious clues, the character development is well-done, and the story is engaging. It has a coziness to it that makes it comforting, and it kept me up late at night because I didn't want to put it down. It feels like a fall series, so I'll continue it at that time.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Jacqie

    The mystery idea for this book wasn't bad, and it had a great first sentence. Unfortunately, although it was billed as a mystery, it felt like the author had read a lot of romance and was really more interested in that. I very decidedly was not interested in reading a romance about a married police chief and a female Episcopal priest more than 12 years his junior. The mystery is first about who abandoned a baby in a small upstate New York town church. But then a dead girl turns up- could she be The mystery idea for this book wasn't bad, and it had a great first sentence. Unfortunately, although it was billed as a mystery, it felt like the author had read a lot of romance and was really more interested in that. I very decidedly was not interested in reading a romance about a married police chief and a female Episcopal priest more than 12 years his junior. The mystery is first about who abandoned a baby in a small upstate New York town church. But then a dead girl turns up- could she be the baby's mother? The author telegraphs who the reader is supposed to like and dislike pretty clearly. There's a spoiled young teenage girl who's a member of the priest's congregation. When the priest agrees to let the police chief show pictures of the dead girl around to the congregation after services (!?!?!) this girl recognizes her. It's clear that we're supposed to dislike this witness because she pays way too much attention to her appearance, is apparently "spoiled". These are all thoughts that our priest has- she has a real problem with judging other people. And I had a problem with Clare, the priest. She didn't ring true to me at all. She's supposedly an army veteran (helicopter pilot) with survival training, yet she can't manage to light a fire in a fireplace without the police chief to help her. She doesn't have a good winter coat, car that works well in the snow, or pair of boots that have tread, and she never gets them for herself throughout the course of the book despite having some rather frightening adventures in the snow. Fortunately, the police chief is around to loan her a coat and eventually buy her some boots. How is an army veteran that clueless about practicality? She's got no sense of appropriateness. The above example of showing a murder victim's picture around after a church service is one example. Another is that she's all ready to help the baby into an adoptive home without knowing anything about the circumstances of the abandonment, even enlisting her church to do a letter writing campaign to help the parents she thinks should have the baby. Clare is smug and naive, and also seems incredibly untrained in how to counsel someone without falling in love with them. All sorts of boundary issues. I really didn't care for her, and ended up losing quite a bit of respect for the author because I got the feeling I was supposed to like her. A lot of this book felt like a trip back in time. Do people really apologize every single time they swear or use the word "Jesus" in front of a priest these days? Are letter writing campaigns still a thing? Well, at this point I am just ranting. Suffice it to say, I do NOT recommend this book. It's sort of a shame, because I can see that the author has talent- I just have no trust in her judgement about characters, romance, or ethics.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Hallie

    This was the perfect way to pass some hours the other day, when I needed something to take my mind off things and could curl up on the sofa with the dog, book and tea while the storm blew in and I was away from my world. (Our storm was wind and rain, not snow!) I really liked both the main characters, and even if the mystery wasn't brilliant, it was good enough to keep me engaged when I was so taken with Clare and Russ. I'm not sure how Clare would have seemed to someone not brought up Anglican, This was the perfect way to pass some hours the other day, when I needed something to take my mind off things and could curl up on the sofa with the dog, book and tea while the storm blew in and I was away from my world. (Our storm was wind and rain, not snow!) I really liked both the main characters, and even if the mystery wasn't brilliant, it was good enough to keep me engaged when I was so taken with Clare and Russ. I'm not sure how Clare would have seemed to someone not brought up Anglican, as a lot of the humour would doubtless work (Russ is utterly clueless about Episcopalians, Roman Catholics and the differences between them), but the recognition of faults (some of the very self-satisfied, wealthy, lacking-in-compassion parishioners were sadly familiar) and strengths (Clare's deep faith, which she has no need to shove down anyone's throat, and her ability to be with people who are suffering), was a part of the good reading experience for me. In almost any other mystery I'd have had very stern words indeed to say about some of Clare's behaviour, but I was happy to give it a pass here, because it always made sense when considered in light of her feelings of pastoral responsibility. If she were helping the police in any kind of official capacity (other than the priestly office, of course!), her actions would often have been far into TSTL territory. Other readers might not give her that ministerial pass, and in that case, the whole thing might fall more than a bit flat. I did have other quibbles, like her unpreparedness for Real Winter, which was overdone for plot purposes, but nothing too serious. And finally - that "attraction to each other" mentioned in the blurb worried me a bit, as Russ is married. And no amount of setting his wife up as the classic "my wife doesn't understand me" (about which he and Clare even joke) would make it okay for them to go beyond friendship. I loved the last page's quiet acknowledgment of the temptation and refusal to give in to it and very much hope that somewhere along the series line, something will take Russ's wife off to pastures greener. I'm looking forward to reading more to find out, and willing to take the chance I'll just be teased by the hope for book after book after book...

  30. 5 out of 5

    Jen

    I'm not sure why I bought this. Someone somewhere wrote a review that intrigued me. (here on Goodreads? Can't remember now, sorry!) There's no way reading the cover would have pulled me in. A mystery - nah, not in the mood right now. Ex-military priest and ex-military cop? Sounds way too testosterone-inflated for my taste. Sleepy small town with dark undercurrents? Sounds trite. But what I do love is having my expectations turned upside down, and this book definitely is nothing like you would ex I'm not sure why I bought this. Someone somewhere wrote a review that intrigued me. (here on Goodreads? Can't remember now, sorry!) There's no way reading the cover would have pulled me in. A mystery - nah, not in the mood right now. Ex-military priest and ex-military cop? Sounds way too testosterone-inflated for my taste. Sleepy small town with dark undercurrents? Sounds trite. But what I do love is having my expectations turned upside down, and this book definitely is nothing like you would expect from the cover copy. I liked the sense of place, the atmosphere, the characters, and the dialog between Clare and Russ. Clare is very compelling to me. I'm looking forward to reading the next book to spend more time with her. The mystery? Well, I'm not really much of a mystery reader these days. But there were twists and turns and it all seemed to work out in a satisfying way at the end. I think be happy to read about these two even without the pile of dead bodies, though. Short version - high-quality genre reading. Kept me up late to finish it, and made me put everything else in my "current read" pile aside while I was engrossed.

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