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In The Bleak Midwinter by Julia Spencer-Fleming

In The Bleak Midwinter by Julia Spencer-Fleming is the first in a mystery series starring an Episcopalian priest, Clare Ferguson, and Miller's Kill chief of police, Russ Van Alstyne.  I mentioned in a previous entry there was a second mystery novel that I'd read and liked well enough but didn't like the characters enough to want to read the rest of the series.  This is that novel.  This title was on the book club list for a library in the Philadelphia area that our book club will be reading next year, and I decided that I wanted to read it too.

The Reverend Clare Ferguson is new to Miller's Kill and St. Alban's parish, a tiny town and Episcopalian parish in upstate New York.  One bitterly cold winter evening Clare, just two weeks into shepherding her new flock, discovers a newborn baby boy bundled in blankets inside a box left on the steps of her church.  When the body of a local teenage girl is discovered in the snow out on the frigid shores of the kill, Van Alstyne instinctively knows she is connected to both the baby boy and St. Alban's Church in some way.  But the girl herself was not a parishioner, so who is her connection to Clare's church?

As Clare struggles to guide her extremely conservative congregation into serving the needs of their community, she is drawn into the ensuing investigation and a new friendship with Van Alstyne.  Meanwhile, the pressures of an infertile couple bent on taking in the abandoned baby collide with the perverse dysfunction that infects the murdered girl's family.  Class lines between the poverty stricken that her upper middle class congregation deems 'undesirables' are examined through the lenses of the foster care system and adoption.

As the story hurtles towards a pulse pounding, hair raising, disturbing resolution to the mysteries of the baby's parentage,  the identity of the murderer and the murderer's motives, the reader will find this a hard book to put down.  I recommend this read for hard core mystery fans who are tired of mysteries starring police detectives and forensic specialists.  Check it out the next time you visit the library.

--Reviewed by Ms. Angie

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