So at choir practice the other night I was talking to a friend about sublimation. Really. The soprano section was discussing Dorothy Sayers, and the moment in Gaudy Night when Harriet Vane, fiiiinally after soooo long, looks at the sleeping Lord Peter Wimsey and falls for him. Much ooh-ing and aah-ing and then we had to sing something in Latin for a while.
However, when the Latin was finished, Soprano I leaned over and said, “You’ve read Julia Spencer-Fleming, haven’t you? Because in those books, the heroine and the male love interest… well, it’s been six books and they’re still yearning. Oh, and she’s an Episcopal priest! You’d love these books! The titles are all quotations from hymns!”
Now I know that there are hundreds of thousands of readers who have no interest at all in a series of murder mysteries featuring a female Episcopal priest and her neighbor the police chief in an upstate New York hamlet. And for those people, the hymn-based titles will not be an additional draw. Nor will the fact that the Rev. Clare Fergusson came to the priesthood from the Army and knows cool ways to hurt bad people. (In one passage she reminded me of Lee Child‘s Reacher.) Even when I report that Spencer-Fleming is a terrific writer, these readers will remain unmoved.
Which is fine. Tastes differ. What’s more In the Bleak Midwinter, despite the ecclesiastical bells and whistles, is a pretty conventional murder mystery. This is not a startling departure like the work of Susan Hill or Tana French. But here’s the deal: it takes at most a few hours to read a murder mystery and usually about a year to write one. You’ll notice the asymmetry. Gosh, I probably consume more than forty years’ worth of mystery-writing every year and, yes, that does alarm me somewhat. It also explains why I’m so pleased to find a new author.
Oh, the plot. Newborn baby left in box at church door, body of girl found in snowy ravine, Rev. Clare has the wrong clothes and car for upstate New York in November and by the way, the vestry hates her. And the police chief is married. For now.