The Reverend Clare Fergusson and Chief of Police Russ Van Alstyne are the creations of Julia Spencer-Fleming. Clare, a former Army helicopter pilot turned Episcopalian priest from Virginia, is not your typical cleric. Single and in her mid-thirties, she is tomboyish, socially conscious, stubborn, courageous, and impulsive. Russ, a former Army MP and Vietnam Vet, is fourteen years older than Clare, tough, stubborn, streetwise, and married. The rapport between them is immediate.
In The Bleak Midwinter is the only book to win the Agatha, The Malice Domestic, Anthony, Dilys, Barry, and Macavity Awards for First Novel. In this series opener, Clare Fergusson, the newly ordained priest of St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in Millers Kill in upstate New York, discovers a newborn on the doorstep of the church. Pinned to its blanket is a note directing her to give the baby to a childless couple in her congregation who have been trying without success to adopt. The couple desperately want to give the newborn a home, but first, in order to comply with the law, Clare must find the baby’s mother. When she and Russ Van Alstyne discover her badly bruised body frozen in the snow, half-in, half-out of Millers Kill, the shallow river flowing from the Hudson that gives the town its name, they set out to find her killer.
A gritty, fast-paced traditional mystery with a strong plot, vivid writing, and complex, all-too-human characters, In The Bleak Midwinter is a great read.
Note: While any of the books in this excellent series exploring contemporary social issues can be read as a standalone, the continually developing storyline between Clare Fergusson and Russ Van Alstyne is so intertwined with the plot of each novel, it’s best if you read the books in order.