I don’t feel like I need to write an entire post on Julia Spencer-Fleming’s detective novel In the Bleak Midwinter, but I did want to say that I liked it quite a bit and am eager to read further into the series. In fact, I made sure to find a copy of the second in the series while I was out book shopping last weekend. As is usual for me, it wasn’t the plot that made me like it so much, although I found the plot perfectly satisfactory. It was the dynamic between the main characters that held my interest. There’s Clare Fergusson, the Episcopal priest who gets drawn into the mystery when she finds an abandoned baby on the church steps, and there’s Russ Van Alstyne, the police chief in charge of the investigation. It’s probably a little unrealistic the way Clare kept accompanying Russ on his police work — would she really have been able to do that? — but the dynamic between the two of them is so interesting that I was willing to overlook this.
I also liked the setting, which is in upstate New York, near the Adirondack mountains. It’s pretty far from my home town in western New York State, but the territory is still somewhat familiar, especially the small town culture and the dark, snowy winters. I thought as I read about when the best time to read a book with a title like In the Bleak Midwinter is. Do you really want to read about bleak midwinters in the summer? Or while you’re in the middle of winter? Or in the fall when you dread winter’s arrival, or the spring when you can’t wait for it to warm up? IS there a good time? But that comes from someone who is no fan of winter, and I know some people feel differently. And I liked the book enough to be willing to read it no matter the season.
I did wish Spencer-Fleming had given more information on Clare’s religious faith; I wanted to know how she went from being in the military to being a priest (there is an explanation hinted at in the story of a family tragedy, but it’s not developed) and what her faith means to her now. But perhaps these things are developed in later books.
My weekend with my parents was very good; western New York can be miserable in the bleak midwinter, but it’s beautiful in the summer with temperatures that are more moderate than home and rolling green fields and orchards. I was able to ride my bike along Lake Ontario twice, which was great, and I went book shopping twice with my dad, which was also great. We found two used bookstores that we hadn’t visited before, and discovered a couple more that we didn’t make it to this time but can explore later. In addition to the next Spencer-Fleming novel, I bought a copy of Rilke’s novel The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge. Sadly, I probably won’t get to the book this summer to participate in Litlove’s reading of it, but at least I now have it on hand. And I also got Pierre Bayard’s book Sherlock Holmes Was Wrong: Reopening the Case of the Hound of the Baskervilles. I love the title and premise of the book — can he really be right about Holmes? — but I’ll have to read The Hound of the Baskervilles before I pick this one up. That will be something to look forward to.
I also brought home my mom’s copy of Little House, Long Shadow: Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Impact on American Culture. It happens to be the copy I gave her for Christmas last year. But no, I did not buy her the book in hopes she would let me borrow it later. Not really. At least not consciously…. I’ve been flying my way through the Little House series and have made it through three books and am in the middle of the fourth. They read very, very fast, and it’s been great fun to remember all the details and rediscover their charm. But more on that later.