Select one of the keywords
To Darkness and to Death: A Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne Mystery    by Julia Spencer-Fleming order for
To Darkness and to Death
by Julia Spencer-Fleming
Order:  USA  Can
Minotaur, 2005 (2005)
Hardcover, Audio, CD
* * *   Reviewed by G. Hall

To Darkness and to Death continues the well-received mystery series about Episcopal minister/sleuth Clare Fergusson. She is a fascinating blend of daredevil and socially active priest, dedicated to her upstate New York congregation. Her act first, think later tendency, presumably arising from her army helicopter pilot training, continues to draw her into dangerous situations relating to various community problems. Previous books have addressed domestic abuse and gay-bashing.

In this 4th in the series, environmentalists trying to save pristine Appalachian forests are battling big resort developers. Spencer-Fleming excels at vivid settings and one can smell the pine trees and hear the sounds of wind and streams in the forests. (Nevada Barr is one of her few equals in this ability to pull the reader right into the setting.) At the outset, Clare, a member of a search and rescue team, is called out to aid in the search for Millie van der Hoeven, the young co-owner of an immense private estate in the woods. Shortly afterwards, another young woman is found brutally beaten near the estate. Then, searchers find the body of Millie's brother Eugene.

Clare should be at her church preparing for the annual visitation by the bishop the next day. But, as always, she rushes right into the midst of the murder investigation led by Chief of Police Russ Alstyne. The entire story takes place within less than 24 hours, and Spencer-Fleming sustains the suspense, with narration from multiple perspectives. We hear what is happening to Clare, Russ and both young women who are in jeopardy. Other narrators are the owner of a logging company, an unemployed logger and the owner of a pulp-processing plant. All have strongly vested and conflicting interests in what happens to the forestland development plans.

Clare and Russ's relationship is one of the best parts of this series. Russ has been happily married for many years, while Clare is a very public figure, a role model to her congregation. However, the attraction between the two is searing and inescapable. By the end of this book they have admitted their love to each other, but being honorable people have not acted upon it. Surprisingly Spencer-Fleming has maintained the tension of this plot line through four books, and it appears at the end of this episode that something definite will happen soon.

While the third in the series, Out of the Deep I Cry, was not as good as the preceding two books (the first, In the Bleak Midwinter, won all the mystery prizes for its year), this fourth has regained the series momentum - with a bang. Let's hope that book #5 is published soon.

Note: Opinions expressed in reviews and articles on this site are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of BookLoons.

Find more Mystery books on our Shelves or in our book Reviews