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Monday, June 27, 2011

RevGalBookPals book for June: In the Bleak Midwinter

A review of the book; In the Bleak Midwinter (1st in the Clare Fergusson series) written by Julie Spencer-Fleming. The title is taken from the hymn by Christina Rossetti (1830–1894), In the Bleak Midwinter. Here are the first lines;

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.

I stumbled on this book while recovering from Arthroscopic surgery. It was an easy read for my unfocused mind. Clare Fergusson is a newly ordained Episcopal Priest in her first appointment. She is a second career clergy after serving in the military as a Helicopter pilot. The book describes her as a square peg in a round hole of her new congregation. How many of us felt that way going to serve our first church, second church or third Church?

The book begins in the cold of winter with a newborn infant left on the doorstep of the church. But until the baby’s parents can be found and contacted, everyone’s in limbo. This leads to a search for the baby’s mother. It also leads to the bringing together of Clare with the town’s police chief, Russ Van Alstyne. There is a quick development of a friendship that has some elements of attraction in it. It also leads to gossip among the church members and the town people. She seems oblivious to the gossip or the impact it could have on her ministry. I wondered when we have found ourselves in similar situations?

She joins the Police Chief in a search for the baby’s mother, which leads them into the secrets of the town, the family, and more deaths. (I won’t give away all the plot. The box that contained the baby and his blankets also had a note asking that the baby be named Cody and given to a pair of childless lawyers, Geoff and Karen Burns, parishioners at St. Alban’s who have been desperate to adopt a child. But the baby is placed with a foster family instead. The couple then try to enlist Clare to help them get the baby.

Finding the abandoned baby sparks Clare to begin a mission project to help unwed mothers, but her enthusiasm is rebuffed by the senior warden of the socially conservative church vestry, a retired army colonel. How many times have we run into this in churches we have served?

One of Clare’s weaknesses is that she is impulsive and jumps in feet first without thinking. This gets her into trouble. The other is she has a strong need to help other people. But you also get a picture of Clare’s dedication, her leading worship, and her praying. We can even read about Clare’s call to ministry

The last part of the book I thought was over done, but may have been that way to show some of her former military skills.

The cast of characters are well developed and enjoyable to get to know. The settings of the Adirondacks and the little town are well described. It has many twists and turns along with keeping the killer undisclosed for some time. There are moments in this book where spirituality comes into play but not in a preachy sort of way. Russ is an agnostic which Clare handles thoughtfully without over powering him with religion.

I think it is a good read and I look forward to reading the others in the series. If you are looking for a good book to read this summer, this book may just be it. After all it is a hot summer and this book is set in the winter.

Julia Spencer-Fleming, the author, was herself an army brat born at Plattsburgh Air Force Base. She says of these books: “Millers Kill is an amalgam of the towns and villages that I knew as a child. My family settled in the Adirondack Piedmont in the 1720s and I spent a lot of time tramping those hills . . . eavesdropping on the small-town gossip. . . . That part of New York, where poor farms and Saratoga money and the mountains all come together, has always held a bone-deep fascination for me.” Spencer-Fleming now lives in Maine with her husband and three children.

The series, now seven books long, has titles taken from hymns and psalms. Here are the titles for the rest of the books in the series:

A Fountain Filled with Blood (Clare Fergusson Series #2)
Out of the Deep I Cry (Clare Fergusson Series #3)
To Darkness and to Death (Clare Fergusson Series #4)
All Mortal Flesh (Clare Fergusson Series #5)
I Shall Not Want (Clare Fergusson Series #6)
One Was a Soldier (Clare Fergusson Series #7)

You can find the book at


  1. I have really enjoyed the whole series of books, despite some discomfort with one plot thread (but I won't offer a spoiler here). I just ordered #7 for my Kindle!

  2. Like many of the RevGals, I LOVE these books. I'm in the middle of No. & right now.

  3. I am fond of the inner advice that Clare hears from the Master Sgt and from her old Auntie...some of it highly transferable to IRL ministry situations... "time to be a little bit Southern," as she thinks, at one point.

  4. I downloaded book #1 to my itouch and listened to it while driving, about 6 months ago.

    I look forward to listening to more of her books. I am currently listening to "Fall of Giants" by Ken Follett so it might be awhile.

  5. My mother loved, loved, LOVED this series! I haven't read the last one, but you may have inspired me to look for it at our library.

  6. I read "In the Bleak Midwinter" last week while at the beach.

    Clare is quite likeable, and I could relate to some of her perceptions of the nature of ordained ministry and her growing into the role.

    The words "Danger, danger, Will Robinson" kept ringing in my head as the plot deepened...and it wasn't because of the mystery she and Russ were working to solve. My discomfort with the subplot will not keep me from reading the rest of the series.

    Thanks to whomever suggested the book and to RevAbi for reviewing it!

  7. The book sounds interesting, so I just put it on hold at my library. Since it isn't checked out, I should get my hands on it within a couple of days or so. Thanks.

  8. I just finished the newest installment, and it was quite good. I am liking how the relationship between Clare and Russ is resolving. It seems quite believable.

  9. well, I think I just found my next book!!!!

  10. Have read all 7 books more than once, and love them! T

  11. Thanks for your guest review, Abi! It sounds like these are some popular books.

  12. Loved this series! Songbird, I am with you on that one element, but overall, it's great late night reading.

  13. I see Julia Spencer-Flemming on facebook, she recently made a comment about New York's ruling on marriage equality - something like, "this will make for some interesting work for Clare...." - looks like a plot for book 8 or 9...!

  14. I meant to come back and share my review after reading the book. I rated it 10 of 10. Here 'tis, finally: In the Bleak Midwinter


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