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by Julia Spencer-Fleming
Thomas Dunne, April 2003
320 pages
ISBN: 0312304102

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Dr. Emil Dvorak, county medical examiner, is on his way home from a dinner party at the local bed and breakfast run by a couple of friends of his, when he is beset by hooligans in a red pickup truck and beaten senseless. Reverend Clare Fergusson is attending a town meeting and looking for a way to escape when she sees police chief Russ Van Alstyne come into the hall. He motions to the man sitting next to Clare, the director of the local nursing home, who seems to collapse after talking to Russ. Paul is Emil's partner, but Van Alstyne refuses to consider this a case of gay bashing, despite the fact the the bed and breakfast is also run by and for gays.

Then, the day before a Clare is supposed to officiate at a wedding, it is called off. The bride's brother, who runs the local video rental store has been beaten and is the hospital. He is also gay.

It's July 4th weekend, and Mayor Jim Cameron doesn't want this upstate New York resort town to suffer, so the mugging is hushed up. Clare agrees to find a kennel for Emil and Paul's dogs, but they turn out to be a pair of Bernese Mountain dogs and there isn't a kennel in the area that has an available run on this holiday weekend. So Clare takes the dogs to the rectory.

Russ has also been busy. A group of local activists are protesting the building of a resort on ex-industrial dump; a quarry into which barrels of PCBs had been disposed of. The quarry had been cleaned. Contaminated rock and soil had been removed and the site was declared safe, but many locals, including Margy, the police chief's mother, want to keep development out of Miller's Kill. Russ arrests Margy who refuses to allow anyone to post bond, so she will be in jail until she can go before a judge.

While Clare is walking the dogs in the park, they come across a body in a horse trough. Another known gay man has been beaten, to death this time. Clare and Russ have to work together, even though they have tried to avoid each other for the last six months. Clare, an ex-military helicopter pilot had decided to be celibate, and anyway, Russ is married.

If possible, this book was even better than the Agatha winning first novel, IN THE BLEAK MIDWINTER. The characters are well rounded and Clare, although herself religious, does not push her brand of christianity on the reader. It's just part of her, and the religious is well balanced by the secular and agnostic. She could be a good friend.

Reviewed by Barbara Franchi, July 2003

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