Have you ever noticed how it's actually harder to review a series that you love? Especially if, like me, you wait until you've read 7 books in the series to review the first.
It's almost impossible to be objective about any individual book, barring one of them just being a massive disappointment. Plus, it is really hard to go back and reread with any objectivity, knowing how much I love the whole.
This is the first in Julia Spencer-Fleming's brilliant mystery series centered around Reverend Clare Fergussen,a (female) Episcopal priest and the Millers Kill police chief Russ Van Alstyn. Russ and Clare meet when a newborn baby has been left on the doorstep of Clare's church, with a note asking that the baby be given to one of the parishioners to raise. The baby is otherwise healthy and well-cared for, and the investigation into who is the mother of the child begins. Shortly thereafter, the first body turns up, a young woman who has been murdered and left in the kill where she died of hypothermia.
Read on after the cut.
I'm not going to spoil the plot because, obviously, this is a mystery. I am one of those people who prefers to go into a mystery blind and let it unfold. This is a decent mystery, although the solution does start to take shape pretty early on.
But the point of these books isn't in the mysteries. The mysteries are a foil, a device, for an exploration of the characters. Clare Fergusson - former military chopper pilot and all around female badass and Russ Van Alstyn, a hometown police chief with a cracked marriage, a lot of integrity, and a deep well of loneliness. Both Russ and Clare are, in their own ways, damaged, and this series is about the development of their relationship.
In addition, Julia Spencer-Fleming uses these books to say a great deal about modern society, economic collapse in the northeast, the nearly unbridgeable gap between rich and poor in our society, the difficulties faced by soldiers returning to civilian life after combat, substance abuse, marital infidelity, love, grief, and faith. If this sounds like a lot of substance to a series of mystery novels that's because, well, it is.
But, I've digressed into an explanation of why I love this series so much.
Back to In the Bleak Midwinter. It's a good mystery, and a find beginning to a fantastic series. But it's not the kind of book that grabs you by the collar and won't let you go - this is a slow build-up to a satisfying ending.