In the Bleak Midwinter by Julia Spencer-Fleming
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I am an avaricious consumer of mystery series, but there are so many stand-alone books that I want and need to read right now that yet another delectable series is an unwise choice. Well, too late. I read the first in the Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne, In the Bleak Midwinter, and once again, I'm hooked. Julia Spencer-Fleming is another Bouchercon 2013 author that I wanted to sample before the September gathering, and I duped myself into believing that I could indeed eat just one. I will begin #2 today.
This series, set in the shadows of the Adirondack mountains in the small town of Millers Kill, features ex-Amy helicopter pilot, newly ordained Episcopalian priest Clare Fergusson and ex-Army, present-day police chief Russ Van Alstyne. Clare is the first female priest at the Episcopal church in Millers Kill, and is quite different than her conventional predecessor. When only after a month on the job, she discovers a newborn baby abandoned outside the church, Clare quickly becomes involved in the search for its parents and the subsequent murder of the baby's mother. As rapid as her involvement in the resolution to these mysteries and ones to follow, her friendship with Russ Van Alstyne, the chief of police, takes the fast trak to closeness and trusted confidant. Of course, the chief is married, which creates a stumbling block to a more intimate relationship. In solving not one, but two murders, Clare and Russ come to rely on one another's intelligence and intuition, moving in sync as two partners with different skills that mirror in a complimentary efficiency.
It's always so satisfying to encounter yet another author whose manipulation of the language results in a spine-tingling tale. Julia Spencer-Fleming is extraordinarily gifted in her skill of description, including setting, action, and characters. I was truly amazed at the detail of description in those areas, and it made the story so complete. There is no fuzzy, half-hearted imagery in Ms. Spencer-Fleming's writing. The reader is treated to complete disclosure of what a place looks like, what a character's physical and emotional make-up is, and what the action would look like if you were there. The twists and turns of the plot are page-turning pleasures. Now, on to the next adventure/mystery of the Clare and Russ team. Again, my reading pile groans with the weight of of books waiting.
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An Appetite for Murder by Lucy Burdette
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
What a great lot of fun this book was! I used to be torn about my love for both the cozy mystery and the more intense, complex mystery and rating them. Then, I realized that books have to be rated on their own merits and not a comparison basis to all other books. And, as if Lucy Burdette were reading my mind, the first words of her delightful novel, a quote at the beginning of chapter one, simplified all my thoughts and past vacillations. "A hot dog or a truffle. Good is good." (James Beard) It doesn't matter what genre, what categorization a book falls into. Good is good, and An Appetite for Murder is oh so good. I would say that this first book in her Key West Food Critic mystery series is both hot dog and truffle. Well written with great characters and dialogue, it has little nuggets of gold interspersed throughout.
Haley Snow has landed in the layback capitol of the country, Key West, after following her boyfriend of a couple of weeks there. Unfortunately, love up close isn't what it seemed like from a distance. Dumped, without a job, and living in a small houseboat with a friend, Haley is trying to live up to her namesake, Haley Mills, and smile through the pain. Not so fast, Ms. Snow. While focusing on snagging a food critic job with a new Key West magazine, a magazine half-owned by her ex-boyfriend's current love, Haley tries hard to keep her head above water. Then, the waves start crashing down upon her. Kristen Faulkner, her replacement in her ex's affections, is found murdered, and Haley is seen as an especially interesting person of interest to the police. And, Haley's fast, nervous talking and good intentioned but backfiring actions are helping to dig her hole deeper and deeper. The police seem to be getting closer each day to arresting the budding food critic, and Haley's spice of life new start will become most unpalatable unless she can find the missing ingredients to a murder.
Lucy Burdette takes me to one of my favorite places in this series, Key West, Florida. Her spot-on descriptions of this paradise enabled me to once again walk down Duval Street and enjoy the sights, sounds, and smells of a town that rates as my number one place to relax and forget your worries. Ms. Burdette's book is very much a Key West state of the mind trip itself. I am looking forward to continuing the series and following Haley Snow as she makes her home in the Conch Republic.