Weeks ago I talked about finally getting my hands on the Julia Spencer-Fleming mystery series that so many of my friends have been talking about. When too many gush about a series or an author I tend to start backing away from it. I have a contrarian personality, what can I say?
It took me over a week to finish the first book, In The Bleak Midwinter. Normally I can finish a standard paperback book in one or two sittings. The delay with this book did not bode well and I was a disheartened. The first half of the book was good—well written and interesting—I liked the main characters, but it didn’t captivate and suck me in as I thought it would. So I would put the book down, read something else for a couple days and then come back to it. The funny thing is I always came back to it eventually … the storyline and main characters started to live in my head and I could hear them whispering in the back of my mind. I didn’t know what they were saying but I knew something was going on and dang it all if my curiosity didn’t keep me going back to see what these fools were up to. Sure enough, after a series of starts and stops, I got completely sucked in … not by the mystery, which was solid enough, but by Russ and Clare, the protagonist-sleuthing duo. She is an Episcopal priest and he is the chief of police. They are morality personified. They are also unexpected soul mates kept fundamentally apart by a wall of mutual respect, circumstance and just plain old bad timing. Plus, Russ is married and ever faithful to his wife. And there’s a teensy decade-plus age difference. And oh, yes, ethics. Pesky, pesky ethics keep getting in the way.
I came to realize that the first half of the book is setup. (I hate long setups. Detest them.) Despite the drudging narrative and slow rollup we need the space to understand Russ and Clare, who they are, their world and circumstances. We need the context so that we can walk a fiery fence with them without snap-judging what will become damning temptation on both their parts. In spite of their best efforts to do right, each will walk right up to the ledge of a moral cliff and peak over the life-altering edge … and all the while we, the readers, hold our breaths and wonder … will they jump? can they resist a fatum so strong? is today the day they cross the line? and by the way, just where IS the line?
I slammed through the last third of In The Bleak Midwinter and scrambled for the next novel in line. For books in a series I normally look at the ‘Also authored’ list in the front of the book and then double check copyright dates to make sure I’ve got the right order.
Warning: I’m about to rant.
WHY don’t publishers put the ‘Also authored’ list in ORDER? To to bottom, bottom to top. Who cares? JUST KEEP THEM IN ORDER! Especially if all the books are a part of the same series. DUH! Seems like a total no-brainer to me. BUT NO, every book in this stupidly addictive series lists them in different orders like they’re purposely trying to jack you around. So I’m stuck with copyright dates, which aren’t a fail-safe method when used alone. Unless you’ve got access to the internet where you can check order, good luck to ya. Sucker.
Okay. Rant over.
Bottom line. If you haven’t read the series, I encourage you to. Spencer-Fleming crafts a thoughtful and provoking storyline not to mention highly relatable characters that stretch and grow the way we all do—with a little inner conflict.
I ended up reading books two through six in less than a week. The last book is I Shall Not Want (pictured above) and the newest, One Was A Soldier, will be coming out in hardback (boo! for my budget) in late 2009/early 2010. I can’t wait.
What will Russ and Clare do next?