In The Bleak Midwinter (A Rev. Clare Fergusson & Russ Van Alstyne Mystery #1) by Julia Spencer-Fleming
Publication date: January 2012 (original publication date March 2002)
Publisher: Minotaur Books
It's a cold, snowy December in the upstate New York town of Millers Kill, and newly ordained Clare Fergusson is on thin ice as the first female priest of its small Episcopal church. Chief of Police Russ Van Alstyne dismisses her as a naive do-gooder and her blunt manner, honed by ten years as an army pilot, receives a chilly reception. When a baby is abandoned and a young mother brutally murdered, Clare has to pick her way through the secrets and silence that shadow the town like the ever-present Adirondack mountains. As the days dwindle down and the attraction between the avowed priest and the married chief grows, Clare will need all her faith, tenacity, and courage to stand fast against a killer's icy heart.
Clare Fergusson is, in many respects, a babe in the woods as she strives to deal with her first placement as a priest in upstate New York. She doesn't know much about northern winters and is trying to learn about her new community. Shortly after her arrival in Millers Kill, she discovers an abandoned newborn on the church steps. The mother has left a note indicating she wants the child placed with a well-known town couple and lawyers, Geoff and Karen Burns. What Rev. Fergusson presumes will be a clear-cut case of turning the infant over to the Burns becomes a lesson in red-tape. If there's one thing Clare understands it is red-tape and procedures from her years in the Army.
Russ Van Alstyne doesn't intend to come across as hard or mean, but he has rules and regulations to follow. The State of New York also has procedures to adhere to when a child has been abandoned. This situation causes a lot of tension between Van Alstyne and Rev. Fergusson, especially since Russ doesn't really subscribe to any religious beliefs or practices. Even though there's tension from the child abandonment case and later the discovery of the infant's murdered mother, Clare and Russ strike up an unusual friendship.
As the story evolves the friendship between Clare and Russ constantly teeters on the brink of something more. Clare is well aware of the fact that Russ is married and as a result she is the one that pulls back and pushes Russ away, figuratively and literally. As the investigation into the murder continues, Clare unwittingly uncovers a major clue. Will she be able to inform Russ before the murderer tries to silence her permanently?
Ms. Spencer-Fleming has provided a mystery and suspense novel that has undertones of romance that is converted to friendship and inspires due to Clare's faith. Religion isn't the primary theme of In The Bleak Midwinter but does feature prominently yet it isn't intrusive and simply becomes a part of Clare and her routines. Clare and Russ are characters that are well-developed and wholly realistic. It is quite easy to imagine the winter chills, ice and snow described by the author. I thoroughly enjoyed this story and I look forward to reading more from this new-to-me series to see what adventures await Clare and Russ as this series is re-released.
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book free for review purposes from the publisher through LibraryThing's Early Reviewers. I was not paid, required or otherwise obligated to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."