Friday, April 3, 2020

Hid From Our Eyes by Julia Spencer-Fleming: Reading Room Review

It's August 1952 and the body of a young woman in a party dress has been discovered on Route 137, near Millers Kill, in the Adirondacks.  It's August 1972 and the body of a young woman in a party dress has been discovered on Route 137, near Millers Kill, in the Adirondacks.  It's present day August and the body of a young woman in a party dress has been discovered on Route 137, near Millers Kill, in the Adirondacks.  Three young women dead over a fifty year span, with no apparent cause of death and no one held responsible.  But, in that passage of time, there are new resources available to the police, and Chief Russ Van Alstyne of the Millers Kill Police Department has more than a case to solve.  He has his own reputation to clear and a police department to keep off the chopping block.  Add in a new baby and his wife Clare Fergusson trying to find a balance between her job as the priest of St. Alban's Episcopal Church and day-care and self-care, and Russ and Clare have professional and personal issues stacking up to a heavy load.  Clare, who must deal with her guilt of being addicted to pain pills for three months during her surprise pregnancy, is struggling to be the best mother, wife, and priest she can be, and the thought of what the pills did to relieve stress haunts her daily.

Hid From Our Eyes takes us into the investigations of the three young women's identical deaths under the direction of three separate police chiefs of Millers Kill and the part each chief played in the mentoring of the next chief.  It's a story of connections that run deep and some that run dark.  Identification of the young women is problematic, as no ID is left at the scene of discovery, and when Russ comes into the cases with his own Jane Doe, the 1952 victim still remains nameless.  As justice for the police chiefs is as much about bringing closure to victims' families as catching the perpetrator of the horror, the loss of identity lies heavy with the justice seekers.  Chief Harry McNeil died without being able to find the identity of victim #1.  Chief Jack Liddle was able to unravel the mystery identity of victim #2 but no cause of death and no perpetrator, and Chief Van Alstyne finds who victim #3 is and where she is missing from, but he struggles to determine why and who caused the death.  The investigations into determining the identities is a great story of police work, following leads and interviewing and using gut reactions.  At the center of these investigations is the annual county fair with an outside carnival company, an event that draws familiar faces and strangers.

And, while there's plenty of drama to keep readers thoroughly engaged in the murder mysteries, the heart of this series is in the relationships of the characters, Clare and Russ, Clare and Russ and their baby, Clare and her parishioners, Russ and his mother, Russ and his police officers, Haley Knox and Kevin Flynn, Haley Knox and Russ' police officers, and the police chiefs and their successors.  In Hid From Our Eyes, the history of the relationships between the police chiefs, from one to the next, reveals how deeply they care about the communities they serve.  And, we finally get to learn about Margy Van Alstyne and her relationships with Russ' father and with Russ' mentor, Jack Liddle.  Then, there are the inner relationships the characters have with themselves, their demons and their struggles, their joys and their loves.  The intricacies that make these characters who they are cause readers to care intensely about them and become wholly invested in their lives.  Julia Spencer-Fleming has created a world nestled in the Adirondacks with characters who are real to readers, and that's a talent of both heart and mind.

Julia Spencer-Fleming is a master at taking the multiple storylines, making each one a thrilling tale in itself, and then weaving them altogether into an epic saga of brilliantly connected dots.  There's no confusion either.  Readers will be able to clearly follow from one timeline to another and back again. It's been a bit of a wait from the last Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne book to this one, but our beloved authors have real lives, too, and Hid From Our Eyes was well worth the wait.  Spencer-Fleming is a born storyteller whose writing reflects an understanding of people in trying circumstances, resulting in characters and storylines that pull at our heartstrings and broaden our minds.  Fans of this series are going to devour this new entry with great enthusiasm.  And, in this time of time on our hands, there's never been a better opportunity for those who have missed this author to start the series, a series that begins its first book In the Bleak Midwinter with one of the best opening lines I've read, "It was one hell of a night to throw away a baby."  Of course, you can read the series out of order, but I'm on board with Steven Tyler when he sings, "I don't want to miss a thing," and you won't want to either.

Full disclosure requires that I state I received an advanced reader's copy of Hid From Our Eyes from the publisher and that the review above is my own opinion and assessment.  

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