Julia Spencer Fleming Reviews/Big Giveaway

Apr 6, 2013 | 2013 Articles, Mysteryrat's Maze

by Gloria Feit

This week we have reviews of two of the books in Julia Spencer Fleming’s series featuring Clare Fergusson-Out of the Deep I Cry and To Darkness and to Death- and a chance to win the complete series–details at the end of this post.

Out of the Deep I Cry By Julia Spencer-Fleming

The Clare Fergusson Russ Van Alstyne novels now number seven. This, the third in the series, has been issued in a trade paperback edition, among others recently published by Minotaur Books. The mystery around which the tale revolves starts in 1930, when Jane Ketchem’s husband, Jonathan, disappears without a trace. Flashbacks to the 20s and the history of the Ketchums over past decades are present throughout the entire book, its chapters delineated “Then” and “Now.”

There is a contemporary and somewhat analogous mystery as well, when another man goes missing, and the police force in the Adirondack Mountain region of Miller’s Kill, New York (population 8,000), headed up by Police Chief Van Alstyne, attempts to track him, or his body, down. Russ had been a cop, military and civilian, for 25 years, but as usual, he and parish priest Fergusson end up doing dual investigations, despite his reminder “Me cop, you priest.” But that never stopped Clare before, much to the dismay of the church elders. The growing attraction between the two is, as always, a major plot point, and becoming harder for the small town gossips to ignore the weekly lunches they enjoy, mindful of the fact that Clare is thirty-five and that Russ, a recovering alcoholic, is forty-nine and, more importantly, a married man.

Let it be said that I am a huge fan of this series, but had somehow missed this and the subsequent entry, which is next up for this reader. I have to add that I felt a bit let down on reading this one, unsure of exactly why, other than that some of the flashback scenes seemed to slow down the novel, as did some of the historical aspects, which were at the same time interesting–contradictory, I know. There is much discussion of the effects on the town when the old mills, “ornate brick mausoleums for the town’s prosperity,” closed down, and the valley was flooded when the dam was constructed. Over all it was a good read, and one which is recommended.

To Darkness and to Death By Julia Spencer-Fleming

The fourth book in the Clare Fergusson Russ Van Alstyne series describes a very eventful day in the Adirondack Mountain town of Millers Kill, New York. That may be a gross understatement. As one character states: “A murder, a missing person, and an assault case all in one day? It’s like one of those signs of the Apocalypse.”

As the book, and the day, begins, the only event of major import is that it is Police Chief Van Alstyne’s 50th birthday. He is doing some serious soul-searching, as he and Reverend Clare Fergusson are coming to terms with their strong mutual attraction, and Russ has to make a decision on whether to tell his wife about his love for another woman. But that is pushed to the background as sinister events occur. There is a land buyout about to come to fruition, 250,000 acres of timberland involved, affecting as it will the lives and livelihoods of many of the townspeople. Tempers flare, things get horribly out of hand, and violence ensues. A more traumatic and fateful birthday for a protagonist would be hard to imagine.

The concept of stewardship of the land (and the local businesses) comes into play. Generations of landowners find that their values may no longer be shared by their children and grandchildren. Russ and Clare find that they have to go beyond their primary vocations to smooth the troubled waters, and try to find out what, and who, is behind the crimes. It is hard to find a sympathetic character among these people, most of whom have known each other–or their families–all their lives.

As always, the author lays out the lives and backgrounds of the Millers Kill inhabitants very thoroughly, and in interesting fashion, and as the book approaches its denouement, the suspense increases immeasurably. (Parenthetically, I loved the tip-of-the-hat to Lee Child and his protagonist, Jack Reacher.)

The constantly shifting p.o.v. did make the read difficult at times, but the good writing and intriguing plot made it worthwhile, and the book is recommended.

To enter to win a copy of all 7 books in this series, simply email KRL at life@kingsriverlife[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, with the subject line “Fleming”, or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen April 13, 2013. U.S. residents only.

Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & short stories in our mystery section.

Ted & Gloria Feit live in Long Beach, New York, a few miles outside of New York City. For 26 years, Gloria was the manager of a medium-sized litigation firm in lower Manhattan. Her husband, Ted, is an attorney & former stock analyst, publicist & writer/editor for, over the years, several daily, weekly and monthly publications. Having always been avid mystery readers & since they’re now retired, they’re able to indulge their passion. Their reviews appear online as well as in three print publications in the UK & US.


  1. My husband and I spent several weeks in the Adirondack’s. It’s a beautiful part of the country. I’d love to read your mysteries, since I love the setting and the decade.

  2. Julia Spencer-Fleming is an amazing writer! Thank you for sharing your reviews.

  3. I have loved this series. It’s got a great sense of place and Clare’s background makes her a unique character. I’m eagerly awaiting the next installment.

  4. I read one of her Clare Fergusson Russ Van Alstyne and I was a fan forever! Her books are treasures.

    I would be in 7th Heaven if I won the seven book! Thanks so much for a peak into two books that I haven’t read.


  5. Thanks for the honest reviews

  6. I agree the series, like any others, is a bit inconsistent but each book is worth reading for the excellent writing.

  7. This is a wonderful series and I think that it’s a testament to the author that I have to take a breather between books because I get caught up in the character’s lives. Well done.

  8. Have appreciated the skill of this writer and enjoyed every one of the books. The stories are real, the characters well drawn and portrayed as real people.

  9. We have a winner
    Lorie Ham, KRL Publisher


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