Do you know Clare and her husband Russ? Have you missed them?
If so, I have terrific news—they’re back, or they will be on April 7 when dear friend and MCW blog alum Julia Spencer-Fleming will launch into the world her ninth mystery, HID FROM OUR EYES.
Set in the fictional Adirondack mountain town of Miller’s Kill, New York, Julia’s character-driven Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne series has won a boatload of well-deserved awards (Agatha, Anthony, Dilys, Barry, Macavity and Gumshoe) and many fans for its engaging mix of suspense and humor.
Protagonist Clare Fergusson is a female Episcopal minister and former Air Force pilot who continues to serve in the National Guard. (If you haven’t read Julia’s books and are skeptical about how that can possibly work, trust me, okay?)
Russ Van Alstyne is the chief of police in Miller’s Kill. Early in the series Russ was Clare’s foil, then it seemed for a while he’d be her unrequited love. But as we in the fiction writing business know, life can turn on a dime, so now they are co-protagonists in every sense, and married to boot.
Recently, Julia made me a very happy fan by giving me an Advance Reading Copy of her much anticipated book. I assure you, there was no (ahem) quid pro quo involved. In fact, she had no idea I planned to dedicate this month’s post to lauding HID FROM OUR EYES. But friends, I flew through it, delighted to be immersed in another Miller’s Kill mystery. It’s a terrific book, smart and deft and twisty, a worthy successor to the first eight books in the series.
Julia’s longtime fans will be happy to be reunited with the stellar supporting cast as well as Clare and Russ, who are adjusting to a big change in their life together. Wonderful new characters enrich the plot with the humanity that distinguishes Julia’s work. I’m not going to summarize the story—you can go here for that https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250261144—but instead would like to talk about the most appealing aspect of a Julia Spencer-Fleming book, which is true from start to finish in HID FROM OUR EYES.
Julia writes what she knows, and she writes the heck out of it.
Because she was raised in a military family, Julia has lived in more than her share of small towns, and she captures their essence on the page like few other authors. The long memories and unspoken rivalries. The quiet kindnesses and hidden jealousies. The power and pettiness of local politics. Her characters are people you might recognize from your own community if you’ve ever attended a town meeting or gotten roped into organizing a fundraiser.
Spirituality is a through line in her books—the titles are drawn from hymns—and Clare somehow always winds up in the middle of a murder without it seeming forced. That she’s a minister is presented in a matter of fact way, warts and all (vestments are not always the most practical clothing, she has a lot of explaining to do when her diocesan superiors inevitably learn she’s hip-deep in another crime solving mission). The fact Clare is a priest informs her world view, just as the fact Julia herself is a devout Episcopalian affects her approach to life. It works on the page because it’s organic.
Julia also embraces the complex equation that is law and order in the modern world. Miller’s Kill is not immune from the plague of opiate addiction, the corrosive power of greed, the tragic aspect of human nature that makes people who love each other sometimes turn on each other.
She writes about these real-world truths and never loses track of the fact that her characters—both heroes and villains—are real people. There are no stock characters in a Julia Spencer-Fleming book, no stereotypical good guys, bad gals or even people on the sidelines. Every single character is a living, breathing human being, which is a tremendous accomplishment.
If you’ve not read the earlier books in Julia’s series–the first is IN THE BLEAK MIDWINTER–you have plenty of time to do so before April 7th rolls around. If you’ve read every one and can’t wait for Book Nine, go ahead and pre-order HID FROM OUR EYES so it’ll be in your hot little hands on or about the day it’s released. You’ll thank me for the tip.
Speaking of ordering, pre- and post-publication, it’s not too late to enjoy the most recent books written by our very much missed friend and colleague Lea Wait, who died in August after a long and successful career as a writer (among other things.) THREAD ON ARRIVAL and THREAD AND BURIED, the eighth and ninth books in her Mainely Needlepoint Mystery Series, are the perfect read for a winter’s night. Lea also wrote historical books for young people set in and around her beloved Edgecomb. You can find descriptions and buy links here: https://www.leawait.com/
Brenda Buchanan brings years of experience as a journalist and a lawyer to her crime fiction. She has published three books featuring Joe Gale, a newspaper reporter who covers the crime and courts beat. She is now hard at work on new projects. FMI, go to http://brendabuchananwrites.com