Well, that was very satisfying. I was a little disappointed by Julia Spencer-Fleming’s A Fountain Filled with Blood, especially after the very strong start of her first book, In the Bleak Midwinter. But here she is on Book Three of her series, in fine fettle. Episcopal minister Clare Fergusson and small-town police chief Russ Van Alstyne are involved in another tricky situation with moral, legal, and spiritual ramifications. Guns are brandished, suspects interrogated, red herrings placed and discarded, physical damage is done, and more.
Let’s look at what Spencer-Fleming has to build into each book: a murder and its solution. Increasing romantic tension between Clare and Russ. Counter-tension presented by Russ’s marriage. Church background. Small-town background. And, about 85% of the way through the book, a direct confrontation with the bad guy. Mind you, not all mystery writers bother with that last step but I think the expectation is pretty much built in: I usually feel let down if it doesn’t happen.
All of these elements are present in Out of the Deep I Cry, locked into a mirroring structure that deepens their significance, for Spencer-Fleming starts with a flashback involving the teenaged Russ witnessing a very weird suicide attempt. Then chapters alternate, from “Then” to “Now,” elaborating the puzzle. Look for water: a leak in the church, a dam, river-rafting, a rainstorm, a flooded basement. Very clever. But at the same time, the plotting and writing are tight enough so that you’re carried along by the power of the story-telling. That’s why they call it “escape fiction.”