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A Fountain Filled with Blood    by Julia Spencer-Fleming order for
Fountain Filled with Blood
by Julia Spencer-Fleming
Order:  USA  Can
St. Martin's, 2003 (2003)
* * *   Reviewed by G. Hall

Julia Spencer-Fleming's second book, A Fountain Filled with Blood, is even better than her first one, In the Bleak Midwinter. This is a real tribute since the first latter won both Agatha and Dilys Awards.

Once again the setting is the town of Millers Kill in scenic northeastern New York State where Reverend Clare Fergusson is the new Episcopal minister. Clare is in her 30's and comes to the ministry with an unusual history as a helicopter pilot. She is a priest with a real social conscience and desire to be part crusader/part Joan of Arc. Although just a small town, Millers Kill presents sufficient challenges. The first book dealt with the problems of unwed mothers while this one addresses gay bashings.

At the outset a local doctor, known to be gay, is left by the roadside, nearly beaten to death. Soon a young gay video store owner is attacked. The situation escalates when a third gay man, the developer of a nearby resort area is found brutally murdered in a 'fountain of blood'. From the beginning, Clare wants to publicize the apparent link between the attacks and to warn other gay residents in the area. However, police chief Russ Alstyne is concerned that this may worsen the situation by spotlighting gays who might prefer to keep their lives private. But after the murder there is no possibility of keeping things quiet.

Clare, the kind of minister who adopts the whole town into her congregation, jumps right into trying to solve the murder. She and the married Alstyne are a reluctant team, each striving to avoid dealing with their growing attraction. This becomes even harder when the impulsive Clare lands herself, and then both of them, in several dangerous situations. As Alstyne says 'An adrenaline addict, she (Clare) had once described herself as. How she ever made it through a seminary and into the priesthood was a mystery to him.'

A Fountain Filled with Blood has much to offer its readers. Spencer-Fleming skillfully sets the scene so that readers can feel the hot and humid summer weather just as they did the frigid cold of In the Bleak Midwinter. Plotting is a strong point,as are exciting descriptions of how Clare and Alstyne survive a harrowing ride in a sabotaged helicopter. However, the best part of this novel is the relationship between Clare and Alstyne. They are among the most interesting sleuthing partners in current mystery fiction, suffering very real struggles with their feelings and consciences.

One wonders how Spencer-Fleming will resolve their dilemma. There does not appear to be a happy solution when a new female priest attempting to establish herself in a traditional congregation falls in love with the married police chief and he with her. Readers can look forward to book number three to see how Spencer-Fleming will handle this.

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