I mentioned on Tuesday when I reviewed Julia Spencer-Fleming's ONE WAS A SOLDIER that I had gone back to listen to some of the earlier books in the series. I finished books one through three and decided to talk about them altogether here for this week's audiobook Thursday since they all have the same narrator.
First line: "It was one hell of a night to throw a baby away."
Julia Spencer-Fleming introduces her series with a baby left on the steps of the town Episcopal Church in the dead of winter, where the new priest, Clare Fergusson, finds it. A note is left with the baby instructing the baby be given to a couple in the parish to adopt. However, adoption laws aren't quite that easy and the police chief, Russ Van Alstyne has to investigate the baby's abandonment. When the baby's mother is found dead, the investigation intensifies. Meanwhile sparks are also starting to fly between the priest and the married police chief.
A FOUNTAIN FILLED WITH BLOOD:
First line: "The yahoos came by just after the dinner party broke up."
Clare Fergusson and Russ Van Alstyne meet up again in Millers Kill when Emil Dvorak, the county medical examiner, is viciously attacked. Emil is the partner of Clare's good friend, Paul Foubert. When a second victim is discovered in his video rental store, Clare begins to press Russ into telling the town that a string of hate crimes is happening. The situation escalates even further when the developer of a posh spa, also a gay man, is found murdered in the park.
OUT OF THE DEEP I CRY:
First line: "Russ Van Alstyne had just gotten a tug on his line when he saw the old lady get up from between the headstones she had been trimming, lay down her gardening tools, and walk into the reservoir."
Spencer-Fleming makes a bit of a style change in the third installment in her series. In OUT OF THE DEEP I CRY, she tells the story through a series of flashback and current events. When St. Alban's roof finally springs a link, the vestry has no choice but to do something about it. They can't borrow money as the Church is too far in debt. So Mrs. Marshall, one of the vestry members, decides to break the trust her mother left her and give the money to St. Alban's to fix the roof. However, breaking the trust also means taking away the interest from the local medical clinic that Mrs. Marshall's mother helped established years ago. What seems like a paltry amount ends up wreaking havoc on Millers Kill.
I decided to review these altogether today because each of these books reflects the strengths of Julia Spencer-Fleming as a writer. She creates vivid characters with down-to-Earth qualities and characteristics. Much like Louise Penny or Craig Johnson, the consistency in characters from book to book makes the reader feel as though he/she is coming back to Millers Kill for a visit, seeing old friends again.
As I mentioned in my ONE WAS A SOLDIER review, I have a special affinity for Clare. Her well-meaning actions sometimes lead her straight into trouble. I can identify with that. Her periodic reflections on whether she's chosen the right life path. I can identify with that. Her tendency to end up wrinkled and disheveled. I can definitely identify with that. Clare and I share a great disdain for winter. I even drove a Mustang convertible at one time, but it wasn't a Shelby. I also won't be joining the seminary or flying helicopters anytime soon. But Spencer-Fleming takes a fictional character in a role we normally idealize and shows that character for the human she is. Spencer-Fleming does a masterful job of this.
Each of the novels centers around at least one social issue, flushing it out for the complicated situation that it is. Rarely is it as black and white as activists or politicians would like us to believe. The perfect storm of legal, moral and psychological ramifications often takes place smack in the middle of the plot. Clare's insistence on being right in the middle of police investigations may be a bit of a reach, but one readers will happily overlook for the pleasures of reading this series.
The Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne series includes all elements of life: the funny parts, the serious parts, the scary parts, the happy parts and the sad parts. I believe that's what makes this series so rich. I went from one audiobook to the next to the next because I didn't want to leave Millers Kill and it's citizens. They've become my friends.
This audiobook series is recorded by AudioGo, formerly BBC America. All of the books are read by Suzanne Toren. I adore Toren for all of the female characters, especially Clare, but for the male characters I see a old woman who has smoked all her life. After a short while I grew use to it and didn't notice it quite as much, but it was kind of jarring at first. The other type of character that was a little painful for my ears was young males. There is a young police officer, in his early 20s, but her characterization of him sounds more like pre-pubescent. And when you're hearing a book, that alters the image of the character.
That being said, I do like this series on audio. Those two details are ones that after a short while you grow accustomed to because Toren does such a wonderful job of setting tone and the mood of the characters. The pacing is also exceptional. And she seems to have an intuitive understanding of the characters as well as Spencer-Fleming's humor.
I have three more books to catch up with the series, and I will listen to them all on audio. This is a series I would recommend to others who enjoy audiobooks.