A winter's crime

I thoroughly enjoyed Julia Spencer-Fleming's Through the evil days, the latest (published 2013) in a series of novels about Chief of Police, Russ Van Alstyne and love interest Clare Fergusson.

Set in the Adirondack Mountains, this is a smart novel. It manages to appeal both to "cosy crime" aficionadas - think The cat who... series or Murder she wrote, and those who like a bit more "meat" and realism to their crime fiction. It combines the kind of village life that everyone would like - everyone knows everyone else, and does their best to take care of them, the police are friendly and caring, and the countryside is breathtakingly beautiful. Spencer-Fleming though isn't afraid to set a brutal crime against this background, or to demonstrate that not everyone or everything is quite what it seems.

This, in a way, is mirrored by her two lead characters, Russ, the rugged police chief, who seems to know exactly where he's going and has his life well under control (the reverse turns out to be true), and Clare, former soldier turned church minister, who is not going to match any stereotypes that the words "soldier" and "church minister" may spark in the mind of the reader.

In fact the heart of this novel challenges the assumptions that we all make, and there is a pretty chilling twist in the tale at the end to prove it.

The novel centres around a case of arson. When a local home is torched and an elderly couple are found murdered, the Millers Kill police set out in the middle of the storm of the century to hunt down the little girl they were fostering, who went missing the night of the fire. Mikayla has recently had a liver transplant, and will die shortly if she doesn't get vital medication.

There's a great blend in this novel of a solid police procedural, a tale of ordinary folks trying to make it in difficult conditions, a decent thriller, and a sizeable dollop of romance. Occasionally Spencer-Fleming doesn't quite get the balance right; but on the whole I loved this tale.

What was also good about it was that though this was the most recent novel in a long (there have been 7 previous novels) series, I didn't feel at all disadvantaged leaping in at the end. Indeed the only thing I regretted (having checked as soon as I finished the book) was that there doesn't seem to be a new one out yet. I think that rather means that I enjoyed it immensely.

For a wintry tale with the odd heartwarming, and occasional heart-stopping, moment, this is a great read. And there's a dog hero too, what more could a Bookhound want?


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