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THROUGH THE EVIL DAYS
by Julia Spencer-Fleming
Minotaur Books, November 2013
368 pages
$25.95
ISBN: 0312606842


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Russ van Alstyne and Clare Fergusson are newlyweds, but instead of the expected happiness that they should share, they find themselves in crisis. Though only just married, Clare finds herself to be (shockingly for both Russ and Clare) four months pregnant; while concerns about Clare's PTSD-induced alcoholism and Russ's lack of desire to become a father are palpable, those are the least of their problems. By profession, Clare is an Episcopalian priest, and she's been given an ultimatum to resign her cure before the archbishop takes action; compounding the stress is that the Millers-Kill town council is seriously considering disbanding the police force that Russ is chief of and replacing it with the state police force. Complicating matters, a deliberately-set fire that leaves two people dead and a sickly young girl kidnapped sets into motion a dark tale that reveals much about the human condition and about the limits of our legal system.

Russ and Clare decide, amidst all this drama, to take a much needed honeymoon at a remote cabin where a vicious winter storm hits, stranding them not just in the wilderness, but near a ring of meth manufacturers who are closely tied to the kidnapping of the young girl. With the couple largely confined in the wilderness, the bulk of the investigation in handled by Kevin Flynn and Hadley Knox, who are dealing with their own issues. For Kevin, it's his painful near-romance with his partner and an enticing job offer; for Hadley, it's the re-emergence of her ex-husband who is threatening to take her kids from her and reveal an embarrassing part of her past. Throughout the course of the investigation, Hadley and Flynn meet a disgusting range of characters—not the least of whom is a couple of FBI investigators, whose marriage makes them reconsider the possibilities in their own relationship, while throwing a serious wrench in the wheels of their investigation.

This is the 8th Clare Fergusson/Russ van Alstyne novel, and while it was the first one for this reviewer I found myself enthralled quite quickly. The four primary characters are expertly drawn in a three-dimensional way that is uncommon in the ordinary run of mysteries. They are all quite flawed, but exhibit real humanity and have plausible responses to the trying situations placed before them. There is a tendency, even in the best of mystery series, to wrap up everything nicely for all of the characters, even if only temporarily, by the end of each entry in the series; that isn't the case in THROUGH THE EVIL DAYS. For some characters, their struggle may be somewhat alleviated, but for others what happens near the end of the novel may be devastating; and it is to Spencer-Fleming's credit that she pulls no punches. If anything, the engrossing way all four characters and their problems are drawn overshadows the mystery; I know that this reader was so eager to get back to the personal issues of each character that the kidnapping of the girl, certainly compelling on its own, could wait to be solved. But in a world where too many characters are thinly drawn and act without obvious or believable motivation, that's a problem that most readers will be glad to have any day.

§ Ben Neal is a librarian who likes to fancy himself an amateur writer, humorist, detective, and coffee connoisseur in his spare time. He can be reached at beneneal@indiana.edu.

Reviewed by Ben Neal, November 2013

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)


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