Friday, May 24, 2024

Julia Spencer-Fleming - To Darkness and To Death

Saturday, November 14, 5:00 A.M.
In the small Adirondack town of Millers Kill, an old lumberman sits in the dark with his gun across his knees. Not far away, an unemployed logger sleeps off his bender from the night before. The owner of the town's last paper mill tosses in his bed. And a young woman, one of three heirs to the 250,000-acre Great Camp, wakes alone in darkness, bound and gagged.
Chief of Police Russ Van Alstyne wants nothing more than a quiet day of hunting in the mountains on his fiftieth birthday. His wife needs to have the town's new luxury resort ready for its gala opening night. The Reverend Clare Fergusson expects to spend the day getting St. Alban's Church ready for the bishop's annual visit. Her long-distance suitor from New York expects some answers about their relationship during his weekend in town.
In Millers Kill, where everyone knows everyone and all are part of an interconnected web of blood or acquaintance, one person's troubles have a way of ensnaring others. What begins as a simple case of a woman lost in the woods leads to a tangle of revenge, blackmail, assault, kidnapping, and murder. As the hours tick by, Russ and Clare struggle to make sense of their town's plunge into chaos---and their own chaotic emotions.
Something terrible waits in the ice-rimed mountains cradling Millers Kill. Something that won't be content with just one death---or two. . .
Julia Spencer-Fleming continues her moving story of the way a small town, as well as a great city, can harbor evil, and the struggle of two honest people to deal with the ever-present threat of their feelings for one another.

Comment: This is the 4th installment in the series featuring the investigations by Clare Fergusson and Russ van Alstyne, whose first books I've read and enjoyed, and I was quite curious about this one too.

In this new story Russ celebrates his 50th birthday and he is eager to spend it hunting with friends, but life never goes according to all plans and the news that Milly, who is a member of a rich family in the area involved in a big environmental business, is missing, starts of the plot when a group of rescuers is reunited to look for her after. Of course Russ is off duty but since he can't ignore his role as chief of police he soon is in the middle of things, and Clare, being who she is, is working along with the rescue team. As everyone searches for Milly, other people carry on with their lives, and some ill made decisions... but when a death occurs, isn't that going too far in regards to what has been going on?

As it happened when I read the other books in the series, once more I was transported to a fast paced plot about an apparently simple investigation which leads into something way more complex as the pages advance. Perhaps this author's stories aren't the most complex or psychologically demanding, but I like how things are sequenced and developed and the writing style makes for a compelling read.

This time, the story is developed in an interesting time line, the whole story is told from a certain hour of the day to the next, which means every situation is quickly followed by something else and, if I remember correctly, practically everything takes place in the same day. The true interest in this particular story is how we are able to follow several characters and what they do and a seemingly simple/routine decisions can have a much bigger impact than the person anticipated. It was also slightly amusing - in a dark humor kind of way - to see how some characters made silly decisions and the consequences were often dire.

The plot is quite simple: several people are involved in a business deal between landlords and a big company which aims to secure the protection of a certain environmental area. Of course that this might sound good for some, but it will also impact others in a more negative way. Some characters deal with this by making decisions which aren't always correct or based on all the necessary information and misunderstandings or wrong moves turn out to have terrible outcomes, without need. I will say that this and the presentation of the hourly plot development made for a compelling read, and a fast paced sequence of events which, sometimes for me, bordered on ridiculous but was extremely engaging.

The plot isn't too complicated to follow, although I must say that in order to maintain some mystery or doubt until a certain moment in the story, a few situations felt a little unrealistic. Or, at least, it felt so from the way the author decided to write them. This didn't ruin my reading experience, but it made some parts a little confusing and I'd say this was avoidable. The whole environmental matter wasn't as highlighted as I imagined, in the sense that this might be a story about the usual good vs bad side of protecting the environment at the cost of other things, it felt to me that it was only a vehicle for some character's choices.

The characters were, as they always are, the true interest in the series. We keep following Clare and Russ as they go on with their professional lives and how much of a coincidence it is that their paths often cross in this regard...well, it's a small town setting after all. Their personal relationship is at a knotty point, though, because they had admitted their feelings to one another but several factors prevent them from taking things to a different level. I'm curious to see what will happen and how long they will try to avoid it changing their lives. 

In general, this was another engaging story to me, although in the beginning there was a moment or two where it felt nothing special was happening... well, slowly at frat and then at a faster pace, things did improve. I'm now eager to read the next one!
Grade: 8/10


  1. I actually have the first four books of this series in the print TBR; I gave the first a half-hearted try years ago, but the reading slump was in full force and so I never got past a couple of chapters. Maybe it's time to dust them off and try again.

    (Although I confess that the "emotionally cheating on a spouse instead of getting a divorce already" aspect of the series does bother me a lot, so I'm not promising anything, as it were)

    1. You know it is interesting, because for the first two books the wife never appeared on page. The scenarios I imagined about that lol
      I think the way this situation was developed by the author makes me more accepting of waiting for something to be done, but I am hoping they will make a decision about their feelings soon.