Julia Spencer-Fleming’s To Darkness and to Death is the fourth novel in her top-rate mystery series featuring priest-sleuth Clare Fergusson. As with the prior three installments, Clare’s vocation as the priest at St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in Millers Kill, New York shapes her character but not the plot.
Here, Clare gets involved in the disappearance of a young woman, not because Clare is a priest, but because she is called in as one of the volunteers on the search and rescue team. Unlike the earlier books, Fleming experiments in this one with a 24-hour format. The action starts with a pre-dawn phone call summoning the search team to look for the missing Millie van der Hoeven, local heiress and co-owner of a 250,000 acre parcel of Adirondack forest. Things take off from there, with lots of moving pieces, including multiple kidnappings, assault, cover-ups, blackmail, shady dealings, murder and mayhem.
Throughout, the romantic current between Clare and the married Chief of Police, Russ van Alstyne, still hums. Probably because of the 24-hour format, the two do not spend a lot of time together on the pages, but they are always aware of each other and their relationship makes a significant step forward before the story wraps up.
This is more thriller than who-dun-it, with the pieces ultimately falling into place – or at least coming to rest – in a pretty exciting finale. For those who prefer analysis to action, clues to chaos, this lack of actual mystery solving will be a let down after the prior books. But it is still an engaging story and Spencer-Fleming is a gifted writer.
She has a good thing going with this series, which she describes as “novels of faith and murder for readers of literary suspense.” "Faith and murder" -- you've got to love that combination!
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