Julia Spencer-Fleming, “All Mortal Flesh”

I love Extra-Strength Excedrin. Is there even a regular strength? Somehow I think not, but I am always reassured by the idea that the pills in the green bottle are going to work extra hard to get rid of that headache.

Sometimes readers need Extra-Strength Diversion. The precise recipe probably differs for each of us but in the last couple of days I’ve wanted a combination of distraction and reassurance that I reliably find in murder mysteries. Bonus points go to good murder mysteries that are new to me. My ability to re-read with satisfaction what is supposed to be a suspenseful genre just supports my conviction that the crime and its solution is secondary. In fact, as I read All Mortal Flesh I realized that it’s exactly the artificiality of the mystery genre that I find so satisfying. These are not real people. These are not normal situations. When I’m feeling a little shaky, I don’t want to immerse myself in lifelike drama. I want to know that Things Will Be OK.

But I do somehow still want a simulacrum of normalcy, which is why I’ve enjoyed Julia Spencer-Fleming’s novels. She pairs an Episcopal priest with an upstate New York police chief to solve crimes. This is the fifth book in the series so the level of mayhem for a rural area is getting implausibly high but that’s one of the things I overlook. I’m far more interested in the moral implications of the female priest and the married police chief falling for each other. Spencer-Fleming takes this seriously: Clare and Russ are deeply involved, emotionally, even though the relationship has remained chaste. Russ has neglected his marriage and we have considerable sympathy for his wife. What’s more this is a very small town and everybody knows what’s going on — or thinks they do. (Clare’s standing in the church hierarchy is iffy at best, and suffers from her rash behavior.)

As so often in this series, harsh weather plays a part

This would be an interesting source of conflict for a straight novel — but that wouldn’t be Extra-Strength Diversion. So in All Mortal Flesh the screws are tightened when both Russ and Clare become suspects in an especially disturbing murder case. Spencer-Fleming provides everything we need — plot twists, red herrings, action, final confrontation — and at the end of the novel peace has been restored. In the civic sense, that is: for Russ and Clare, the situation grows ever more complex, which just makes me want to read the next item in the series. Pretty clever.

About carolwallace

I spend most of my time writing and reading. Most recent publications: the reissue of "To Marry an English Lord,"one of the inspirations for "Downton Abbey," and the historical novel "Leaving Van Gogh." I am too cranky to belong to a book group but I love the book-blogging community.
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9 Responses to Julia Spencer-Fleming, “All Mortal Flesh”

  1. Laura says:

    I’ve read the first 3 in this series so far. This is normally the point where I lose interest in a series, especially in the mystery genre. But I really enjoy them and plan to read the rest. Julia Spencer-Fleming hasn’t reached the “blockbuster mystery-writer” status but is better for it, imo.

    Great post.

  2. carolwallace says:

    Thanks, Laura — I’m totally with you about the blockbuster business but some escape it. Elizabeth George, for one, don’t you think? She gets more & more interesting. Also have you read Susan Hill’s Simon Serailler books? Very interesting approach to the genre.

    • Laura says:

      Carol, I haven’t read Elizabeth George although I’ve seen the Inspector Lynley mysteries on TV and loved them. I’ve also heard a lot about Susan Hill but haven’t read her yet either! I don’t read a lot of mysteries in general, having held a bias against them for a while. But I’m beginning to appreciate there is “goodness” to discover!

  3. Annie says:

    When I need this sort of diversion I always turn to mystery novels and this is a completely new name to me, so I’m off to the library site now to see if I can get the first one ready for the next time I need a large dose of distraction. While we’re swapping possibly writers to fill the role of distractor, have you read Louise Penny? As is usually the case, you are best starting at the beginning with ‘Still Life’, but she is getting stronger and stronger with every book.

  4. carolwallace says:

    Getting on a plane to go to a funeral in California: Louise Penny coming with me on my Kindle. Thank you, Annie. Let me know what you think about Julia S-F.

  5. Excellent review. I have not read any of her novels, but I will also be heading to the library to check them out.

  6. Pingback: Follow my book blog, “Book Group of One” | | Carol Wallace BooksCarol Wallace Books

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