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In the Bleak Midwinter (Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne Mysteries) Mass Market Paperback – March 14, 2003

4.3 out of 5 stars 290 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this debut novel, a riveting page-turner from start to finish, born-and-bred Virginian Clare Ferguson, newly ordained priest of St. Alban's Episcopal Church in the small upstate New York town of Millers Kill, is faced with not only an early December snowstorm and the bitter cold of her first Northern winter but also a conservative vestry, who apparently expended all their daring on hiring her, a female priest. When a baby is left on the church doorstep with a note designating that he be given to two of her parishioners, Clare calls in police chief Russ Van Alstyne. The foundling case quickly becomes an investigation into murder that will shatter the lives of members of her congregation, challenge her own feelings and faith and threaten her life. With her background as an army helicopter pilot, Clare is not a typical priest. Smart, courageous and tough, she is also caring, kindhearted and blessed with a refreshing personality. Likewise, the other characters are equally well developed and believable, except for the young pediatrician, who speaks more like a hip teenager than a professional. It is a cast readers will hope to meet again, while a fast-paced plot keeps the guess work going until the very end. Along the way, there is an exceptionally spine-chilling confrontation. The vivid setting descriptions will bring plenty of shivers, but the real strength of this stellar first is the focus on the mystery, which will delight traditional fans. (Mar. 25)Traditional Mystery contest.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

This first novel, winner of St. Martin's Malice Domestic Award for 2001, introduces an unusual investigative partnership and a probable new series. Russ Van Alstyne, police chief of Millers Kill, and Clare Fergusson, new-to-town Episcopal priest, first meet when she reports a baby abandoned at the church. The two later discover the body of the baby's young mother. As the investigation progresses, Clare runs into opposition from staid church members, two of whom will do anything to adopt the child. With superb skill, exact detail, and precise diction, this highlights credible personal conflicts. For all collections.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Series: Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne Mysteries (Book 1)
  • Mass Market Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Minotaur Books; Reprint edition (March 14, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312986769
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312986766
  • Product Dimensions: 4.2 x 1 x 6.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (290 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #721,591 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Mass Market Paperback
I couldn't read this book in one sitting--I do have a day job! And I didn't want to, either--because I didn't want the experience of reading it to end. "In the Bleak Midwinter" is one of the most skillfully crafted mysteries I've ever read: the plot is focused, and moves rapidly through the various personalities enmeshed in it: the priest, the police chief, the congregation, the tragic love story. It's notable, too, for the characters we DON'T meet but who hover over the action: the chief's wife and the dead young mother. And of course there's the snow, the never ending snow that keeps falling on the rural New York town, trapping the residents into small and predictable movements, underwhich lies great human passion and ambition.
The winter was a little less bleak when I reluctantly finished this extraordinary reading experience. Read it.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback Verified Purchase
This series is so great that I want everyone to know about it. There are 4 books in the series out now and another on the way in October. If you love Margaret Maron, Earlene Fowler, Elizabeth George, Elizabeth Peters or any great mystery, buy this.

The setting is small-town upstate New York in the Adirondacks somewhere between Albany and Saratoga. Everyone knows everyone and their business in a burg of only 8,000 souls. The heroine is an novice Episcopalian priest from Virginia and DC in her first posting, Clare Fergusson and our hero, Russ VanAlstyne, is the Chief of Police.

Don't be put off by the religious bent of Clare. She is devoutly liberal and free-thinking much to her Bishop's dismay and a champion of the downtrodden. Unfortunately, she is completely out of her element in Millers Kill, NY. (Kill is a Dutch derivative meaning a stream that runs into a river, in this case, Millers Kill runs into the Hudson.)

In Clare's capacity as priest, she is thrown into murder and mayhem and meets Russ VanAlstyne, the "older-by-14 years" Chief of Police and agnostic. Despite the philosophical differences, Clare and Russ find they are kindred spirits in having shared careers in the Army; Russ in Vietnam, Clare in Desert Storm and Africa and they fall passionately in love. There's only one catch - of course - he's married; and not even that unhappily.

This dynamic continues throughout the series and I'm dying to know how this will evolve. Clare is consumed with guilt and bound and determined to keep her vow of celibacy until she is married and Russ is just as determined to keep his vows of marriage.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I am always looking for a new mystery series, so I had high hopes for "In the Bleak Midwinter" because of all the great reviews. The writing is good and the book is fast-paced. Unfortunately, the characters and their actions (and therefore, the plot) are just plain silly! Claire, the brand new Epsicopal priest in Miller's Kill, finds a baby on the church steps and in the process meets Russ, the unchurched police chief. After that, all bets are off. Russ lets Claire ride around in the police cruiser one night and they find a dead body. Claire rushes hither and yon in a frenzied state, with no thought to consequences, and practically takes over the investigation from Russ. In the meantime, Russ casts lamely about, acting as if he has never run an actual homicide investigation and never met a "real" woman like Claire (he is married to one of those "silly" women who make frilly curtains and don't understand their men). In the meantime, Claire figures it all out. Really?

My questions are: How did bumbling Russ ever manage before Claire showed up? Why didn't competent Claire become a homicide detective instead of priest since she is so interested in solving mysteries? Why the creepy underlying sexual tension between the two of them? Why do Claire and Russ have dinner alone twice while Russ's wife is out of town? (This is a small town, you two. Get a grip!) Why does Russ let an unqualified person go with him on police rounds to begin with, and once there is an actual crime as serious as murder, why does he continue to let her go with him to interview witnesses and arrest perps? A married police chief and a woman priest as a crime fighting duo/possible couple just doesn't work for me.
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Format: Hardcover
"It was one hell of a night to throw away a baby." This grabber of an opening line sets the scene. A newborn baby is left on the back steps of St. Alban's Episcopal Church in Millers Kill, New York on a bitter November night.
The tightly woven story features Clare Fergusson, a newly hatched, unorthodox Episcopal priest and Police Chief Russ Van Alstyne who have more in common than you would think. Murders take place that seem to be linked with the baby's abandonment and the upper class parishioners of St. Albans.
The omnipresent star of the book is the weather. In this Adirondack community right on the Vermont border, the oncoming winter is a living thing that is ignored at one's peril. Ms. Spencer-Fleming is deft in drawing both interiors and exteriors. She broadens the dimensions of her characters in describing how they live, what they like to have around them, and how they cope with the brutal winters that are part and parcel of their landscape. Some of the townspeople have a "winter rat," a beat up, barely serviceable car they use when the weather and roads are so tough, the road salt eats up the undercarriages and driving is one controlled skid after another.
"In the Bleak Midwinter" is just short of a "cozy" with its budding romance between the sheriff and the priest and its delightful warm interior scenes. Clare could use a crash course in detecting. There are a couple of times this otherwise sensible lady goes into the "absolutely stupid heroine routine" usually depicted by a young lady who hears suspicious noises in a gloomy mansion in the dead of night. Does she call the cops, scream her head off, or hide under the covers like any sane person would do? No, she creeps around in the dark in her bare feet and nightgown, and then (surprise! surprise!
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