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by Julia Spencer-Fleming
St Martin's Minotaur, October 2006
320 pages
ISBN: 0312312644

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

I tend to dislike mysteries where the protagonist is targeted by the bad guy, the ones where the murderer/child molester/bank robber gets out of prison, and blaming everyone for his fate, he seeks revenge and suddenly the cop's private life is invaded or the lawyer is being stalked or the private eye's home is trashed. I find the story line implausible and often uninteresting, so if I'm going to read a book with that theme, it had better have an interesting spin.

It might appear that, in ALL MORTAL FLESH, this is the theme. This is the fifth book in the series which features Clare Fergusson, an Episcopalian minister, and Russ Van Alstyne, the town police chief and the man Clare loves. Russ is and has been married for years; and until meeting Clare, he appeared to be relatively happily married. But things are a mess; Russ has told Linda of his feelings for this other woman, and the result is turmoil for all involved.

As ALL MORTAL FLESH opens, Russ is camping out at his mother's house after Linda asked him to move out. Clare, meanwhile, is taking a few days on a sort of retreat. And in the middle of this emotional mess, the absolute worst thing happens. Linda is found at home brutally murdered. And as in any similar situation, the most likely suspect is the estranged husband.

Readers of the series know this can't be, but most will understand the investigators who insist on looking at his activities. Russ is clearly a good guy throughout the series and of course is not the killer, so we witness both what he's going through, along with his fellow cops, and to watch the state police, who come in to investigate what they pretty much believe is an obvious crime.

I've been impressed by the way Spencer-Fleming has handed this story line as this relationship between Clare and Russ has always been asking for trouble. There aren't too many ways it can be resolved and an author might be seen as writing herself into a corner with such an entanglement.

Clare Fergusson is not a naive young woman; she comes to her calling from a military career. She's a former helicopter pilot, not a soulful, inexperienced minister straight out of seminary. Some of her recent doubts about her calling have led the church authorities to appoint some 'help' for her; a new deacon.

Elizabeth de Groot is not someone Clare would choose to work with. She's a straight-arrow, upright (and somewhat uptight) churchgoing expert who seems intent on steering Clare to the straight and narrow of her job. Clare, who thinks more broadly when it comes to helping people, mindless of their ties to her church, is bound to clash with this determined woman who, while pleasant and polite, seems to have an agenda.

Millers Kill, New York, is a small community and everyone is pretty aware of what goes on. The relationship between Clare and Russ has existed on several levels; while the minister and the cop have some business together, what they really feel is an open secret. While Russ has not been unfaithful, he seems to truly love both women. In one way, his problems have been 'solved' by Linda's murder, but in other ways, they've just begun.

The author doesn't take the easy way out here, and that's to her credit. Spencer-Fleming has laid out a difficult situation for all the people readers have gotten to know in this series and watching them tackle both the investigation of the crime and resolving the personal issues makes for a very worthwhile read.

Reviewed by Andi Shechter, August 2006

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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