Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Review: ONE WAS A SOLDIER, Julia Spencer-Fleming

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When I tell some people that one of my favorite mystery series features a female Episcopal priest as the main character, they act as if they expect the Rev. Clare Fergusson to be some cozy-fied, charming old cleric with a twinkle in her eye and a ready supply of quaint homilies for every occasion. Nope. Julia Spencer-Fleming writes about passionate, headstrong people with complicated emotional lives, and she does it in a way that brings them beautifully to life on the page.

In this one, the Reverend Clare is back from her National Guard deployment in Iraq, after a year and a half away from her parish--and from her lover, small-town police chief Russ Van Alstyne. Other citizens of the small town of Millers Kill are returning from overseas as well, and they all carry their own wounds, both visible and invisible. Even Clare isn’t immune, and their various struggles to come to terms with the damage of war provide as much of the dramatic tension and conflict in the book as the actual mystery. In fact, the death that drives the mystery plot doesn’t actually occur until about halfway through the book, when a member of Clare’s Veterans’ support group dies, apparently by her own hand. I for one was so caught up in the threads of the characters’ individual stories that I didn’t mind.

To her credit, Spencer-Fleming doesn’t editorialize about the wars or the politics behind them. She does unflinchingly face the fact that some soldiers come back maimed, wounded, and suffering in ways even they can barely understand and which sometimes baffle and frustrate the people around them, even those who love them most.

ONE WAS A SOLDIER is engrossing and beautifully written. A solid five stars.

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