Synopses & Reviews
It's a cold, snowy December in the upstate New York town of Millers Kill, and newly ordained Clare Fergusson is on thin ice as the first female priest of its small Episcopal church. The ancient regime running the parish covertly demands that she prove herself as a leader. However, her blunt manner, honed by years as an army pilot, is meeting with a chilly reception from some members of her congregation and Chief of Police Russ Van Alystyne, in particular, doesn't know what to make of her, or how to address "a lady priest" for that matter.
The last thing she needs is trouble, but that is exactly what she finds. When a newborn baby is abandoned on the church stairs and a young mother is brutally murdered, Clare has to pick her way through the secrets and silence that shadow that town like the ever-present Adirondack mountains. As the days dwindle down and the attraction between the avowed priest and the married police chief grows, Clare will need all her faith, tenacity, and courage to stand fast against a killer's icy heart.
In the Bleak Midwinter is one of the most outstanding Malice Domestic winners the contest has seen. The compelling atmosphere-the kind of very cold and snowy winter that is typical of upstate New York-will make you reach for another sweater. The characters are fully and believably drawn and you will feel like they are your old friends and find yourself rooting for them every step of the way.
"Terrific action scenes...what really distinguishes In the Bleak Midwinter, however, is the author's skillful portrayal of her protagonist's inner conflict."
-Washington Post Book World
"A riveting page-turner from start to finish."
-Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"Fleming hits a grand slam with In the Bleak Midwinter. The tension is constant. The dialogue is dead-on. The characters are interesting, thought provoking, and honest. The prose soars above the quality usually found in this genre. To top it all off, the story twists and turns to the last page."-Denver Rocky Mountain News
"Without ever slighting the central situation of the abandoned mother and her abandoned child, Spencer-Fleming shows admirable resourcefulness in the changes she rings on it."
"Compelling...many twists."-Romantic Times
"Filled with many twists and turns...[a] warm tale."-Midwest Book Review
"The prose soars...the story twists and turns to the last page."
-Maine Sunday Telegram
"Julia Spencer-Fleming is already a winner, but she deserves a triple crown. In a strong, distinctive voice, she sets her characters down In the Bleak Midwinter and pits them against public murder, personal demons, and the power of nature itself."-Kathy Lynn Emerson, author of the Face Down Mysteries
"One of the most impressive "first" crime novels I've read. A priest, a cop, a baby on the doorstep, and a lot of snow combined with suspenseful results for one great book."
-Charlaine Harris, author of Shakespeare's Counselor
"Don't miss this one! You'll be rooting for Clare Fergusson in this engaging and vital mystery."
-April Henry, author of the Claire Montrose mysteries and Learning to Fly
Clare Fergusson, St. Alban's new priest, fits like a square peg in the conservative Episcopal parish at Miller's Kill, New York. She is not just a lady, she's a tough ex Army chopper pilot, and nobody's fool. Then a newborn infant left at the church door brings her together with the town's police chief, Russ Van Alstyne, who's also ex-Army and a cynical good shepherd for the stray sheep of his hometown. Their search for the baby's mother quickly leads them into the secrets that shadow Miller's Kill like the ever-present Adirondacks. What they discover is a world of trouble, an attraction to each other-and murder...
From the New York Times bestselling author, for the first time in trade paperback, the debut that started it all. The first in the acclaimed Russ Van Alstyne and Clare Fergusson series, In the Bleak Midwinter went on to win the Macavity, Barry, Agatha and Anthony awards. Now in a stunning new edition, readers old and new can experience the beginning of this critically-heralded mystery collection. It's a cold, snowy December in the upstate New York town of Millers Kill, and newly-ordained Clare Fergusson is on thin ice as the first female priest of its small Episcopal church. Chief of Police Russ Van Alstyne dismisses her as a naive do-gooder and her blunt manner, honed by eight years as an Army chaplain, receives a a chilly reception. When a baby is abandoned and a young mother is brutally murdered, Clare has to pick her way through the secrets and silence that shadow the town like the ever-present Adirondack mountains. As the days dwindle down and the attraction between the avowed priest and the married chief grows, Clare will need all her faith, tenacity and courage to stand fast against a killer's icy heart.
About the Author
JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING is an Agatha, Anthony, Barry, Dilys, Gumshoe and Macavity Award winner. Her books have been shortlisted for the Edgar, and Romantic Times RC awards. Julia lives in southern Maine with her husband and three children.
Reading Group Guide
Questions provided by the reading group of St. Martin of Tours Episcopal Church in Kalamazoo, MI, courtesy of David Senecal
1. What do you think of Clare Fergusson as a person?
2. What do you think of Clare as a priest?
3. How does St. Alban's strike you as a parish? A place you'd want to be? A good match for Clare and its members?
4. What are your reactions to the re lationship between Clare and Russ?
5. What do you think of the setting of the story [In The Bleak Midwinter] and how it is described and used in the book? Have any of you travelled in the Adirondacks and be willing to share your impressions of the area?
6. Do you have a favorite character - or one you love to hate - in the story [other than Clare and Russ]?
7. What are your thoughts about the use of prayer in the book?
8. Do you think the book is successful as a mystery?
9. Is there a good balance between the plot, social and religious issues, and personal relationships in the book?
10. If MIDWINTER were made into a movie, what actors could you see playing Clare and Russ?
Questions provided by the mystery reading group of the South County Regional Library in Charlotte, NC, courtesy of Lawrence Turner
1. Is Clare Fergusson a realistic character (in regards to being a member of the clergy after year earlier being trained as an army pilot)?
2. Does the author give a strong sense of place/setting/community/use of dialogue in the book?
3. Did the author do a good job telling this story—is it involving, suspenseful, plausible?
4. Did the book leave you wanting to learn more about any character? Who?
5. Could this story have been the same if the absent Mrs. Russ Van Alystne was present?
6. Why does Clare continue to assist Russ in two criminal investigations—why is she so curious and assertive?
7. Why does Russ permit Clare to accompany him?
8. Clare and Russ work well together when following up on an abandoned baby case but run into some friction when pursuing a murderer—is this conflict to be expected?
9. Are there any instances in the book when foreshadowing is used?
10. Why is Clares wardrobe important throughout the story (i.e., boots, clerical collar)?
11. What does Clares car say about her or represent to her?
12. Could this story take place in another time period (say, even 25 years ago) and still be the same basic story? Would this story be as effective in another region of the country?
13. Is the book a cozy mystery? (for the unsure, cozy mysteries can be defined and then treatment of certain scenes and situations can be reviewed)