Last Updated on March 30, 2020 Julia Spencer-Fleming is the author of the popular Rev Clare Fergusson and Russ Van Alstyne crime mystery series, which currently includes 9 books.
I found the book series interesting not only due to the crime mystery element but also because there is some romance involved between the two main characters, which is quite unlikely. A reverend (Clare) and a police officer (Russ) solve crimes and also find a strong attraction for each other.
Much to my disappointment when I started reading the books, there are only 8 so far, with the latest one published in 2012. The author’s website doesn’t mention any new books published or even mentions of drafts since then. Here’s hoping that this is not an abandoned series. But even if it is, the eight books are highly recommended reading for any crime mystery fan who doesn’t shy away from reading books with some romance included.
Here are the Julia Spencer-Fleming books in order for her one and only series.
New Julia Spencer-Flemming Books
Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne Series
- In the Bleak Midwinter (Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne #1), 2002
- A Fountain Filled with Blood Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne #2), 2003
- Out of the Deep I Cry (Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne #3), 2004
- To Darkness and to Death (Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne #4), 2005
- All Mortal Flesh (Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne #5), 2006
- I Shall Not Want (Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne #6), 2008
- Letters to a Soldier (Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne #6.5), 2011 (short novella)
- One Was a Soldier (Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne #7), 2011
- Through the Evil Days (Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne #8), 2013
- Hid From Our Eyes (Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne #9), 2020
Julia Spencer-Fleming Books Synopsis
In the Bleak Midwinter
There is a new priest at the conservative Episcopal parish at Millers Kill, New York, and her name is Clare Fergusson. A formerArmy chopper pilot, she is as tough as they come, and she takes no shit from anyone. When a newborn is left at the church’s doorsteps, Clare meets Russ Van Alstyne, the town’s police chief to search together for the baby’s mother. Russ is also an ex-army guy, and the army is a bond the two main characters share and build upon.
A Fountain Filled with Blood
July 4 is approaching, and with it, it seems violent assaults are on the rise, which puzzles both Clare and Russ. It seems that gay people are targeted, however, the latest case ends in murder, which raises the stakes to new heights. While Russ and Clare join forces to fight the unspeakable crimes among their midst, they also fight their strongly building attraction towards each other.
Out of the Deep I Cry
Clare and Russ’s new case takes them back to the times of the Prohibition when Jonathan Ketchem disappeared and was never found. When the doctor at the Ketchem clinic disappears, the two believe the new case goes back to the old disappearance of the guy with the same name. They search uncovers something that for many is best to remain secret – at any cost. At the same time, Clare and Russ start to feel even stronger for each other, which makes things more difficult.
To Darkness and to Death
Another person has disappeared, but this time, it happened just as the missing woman, Millicent van der Hoeven was selling her family’s Adirondack estate to a nature conservancy. It seems that someone doesn’t want that estate sold at all. Russ asks Clare for help in searching for Millicent, and she accepts since she has flown helicopters during her time in the army, so she can be a real asset in the search. The usual second plot follows again Clare and Russ falling strongly for each other and knowing their relationship is doomed from the start.
All Mortal Flesh
The stakes have been raised in this book because Russ is the very suspect in the apparent murder of his own wife…right after she kicked him out of their home. Now Russ and Clare can’t even talk to each other anymore because the police, the entire town, and the church itself are against them until the whole case is cleared.
I Shall Not Want
Despite the troubles between Russ and Clare, life, and above all crime, goes on in the small town of Millers Kill, New York. Mexican farmhand finds a Latino man killed execution style, which draws Clare into the case due to her involvement in the migrant community. But when two more executed bodies are found, the town knows that they have a serial killer in their midst. Can now Clare and Russ work together and try to find their way to each other during this case before it’s too late?
One Was a Soldier
For the first time after Clare and Russ got together, there is trouble on the horizon. They are both vets, along with a few others with whom they meet to reminisce about their old times in the war. When one of the veterans is found dead, Russ believes it was suicide. But Clare doesn’t believe so. She believes he was murdered, and now this new investigation threatens to destroy the thin new bond the two lovers have now again formed.
Through the Evil Days
Clare and Russ are newlyweds, and the church is not happy: Clare is pregnant, and she is yet to find out whether she will soon be kicked out of the church. In addition, the two are called to the site of an arson, where two bodies are found. Except, there is also a missing child they are now eager to find. Once again, the two lovers find themselves torn apart not only in work but also in their personal life and relationship.
Hid From Our Eyes
Seven years later after the previous book, we have a new one! Julia Spencer-Fleming fan rejoice! This time, it seems history seems to repeat itself. Twice. Back in the 1950s, there was a murder of a woman with no obvious cause of death. The same thing happened in the early 1970s, except it seems they found the killer: Russ van Alstyne himself. And now, Russ, as chief of police, gets a911 call about a dead woman in a party dress, which takes Russ back to some very dark memories. But can he solve the new crime before he is removed from the investigation?
Julia Spencer-Fleming Biography
Julia Spencer-Fleming was born at the Plattsburgh Air Force Base in 1961. As an army brat, she mostly spent her childhood hopping from base to base on the move with her family.
Growing up, she studied acting and history at Ithaca College, following which she attended the University of Maine School of Law from where she got her J.D. law degree.
She was working on her debut novel, In the Bleak Midwinter, while she was pregnant, and she finished it about the time her third child, Virginia, was born. Of course, she still had to edit it and turn it into a presentable format, which she did while nursing during her maternity leave.
As she was busy with her children and taking care of her 180-year-old farmhouse in the Maine countryside, Julia didn’t have time to find an agent for her book. What she did instead was to send her manuscript to the St. Martin’s ‘Best First Novel’ contest just about one week before the deadline. That was around Halloween. As the winner would be announced the next April, she was hoping to get at least some editorial comment back for her book.
Instead, she got a call from Ruth Cavin, the well-known mystery editor (who since passed away in 2011), telling Julia that her book won the 2001 Best First Traditional Mystery Award, beating over 200 other entries.
Since then, a few of the Julia Spencer-Fleming books went on to win several awards, including the Agatha Award, Anthony Award, Macavity Award, Dilys Award and Barry Award for In the Bleak Midwinter, and the Nero Wolfe Award and Gumshoe Award for All Mortal Flesh.
Currently, Julia Spencer-Fleming lives in Buxton, Maine with her husband, 3 children, and her pets.
Reading the Julia Spencer-Fleming books in order is recommended for her series especially with regards to the developing relationship between the two main characters, and their backgrounds.
The author’s books include mystery, romance, a fast-paced plot, lots of action, and touch on various social issues such as adoption, environmentalism, homophobia/hate crimes, and vaccinations. There are books (like To Darkness and To Death) that are concluded in just around one full day, while others like Out of the Deep I Cry go back in time as well.
The two main characters, Clare and Russ are as opposites as they come. She is some 14 or 15 years younger than he is. While both are ex-Army people, they are very different. He is married, she is single. One is liberal, the other is a rather closed conservative. One is a northerner, while the other is a southerner. They couldn’t be any different than they already are. Yet, for some reason, there is a spark between them and a budding romance.
Clare’s character is a bit strange, indeed. She is not only coming from a military background, having been in the army before, where following the chain of command is mandatory, and keeping your mouth shut is required, but she is now a priest, where keeping confidentiality is a given. So she should know better than blabber things she isn’t supposed to reveal. And then we have her forbidden romance to the married man, where she is supposed to also counsel married couples regarding their family troubles.
Some readers have actually stopped reading the books because they couldn’t reconcile Russ’s marriage with him being attracted to a younger woman (the typical cliche). However, if you do read all the books in order, things will be explained. We are talking about 3-dimensional people with real feelings and emotions. Things that can happen to each and every one of us.
Russ and Linda’s marriage has cracks, but none of them want to acknowledge them until much later. It is true what they say that if a marriage is rock-solid, the eyes are not wandering around. There is no reason for it.
Neither Russ nor Linda are bad people. Actually, I was surprised when Linda was introduced to the story (I think it was in Out of the Deep I Cry), I was surprised just how normal and basically a good person she is. Sadly, Linda never came first in my mind (even though he is Russ’s wife) because by then I was quite strongly focused on Clare and Russ’s developing…something.
That’s why reading the Julia Spencer-Fleming books in order is so important. While the crimes solved in each book are rather standalone, the underlying personal threads are getting strong and stronger in each book.
Praise for Julia Spencer-Fleming
Spencer-Fleming’s most ambitious book yet – think The Best Years of Our Lives with corpses….fans will continue to be impressed by her resourceful determination never to tell the same story twice. (Kirkus Reviews)
A story of greed, betrayal, and wounded love. (John Hart)
this is a surefire winner, taking the linchpin Fergusson- Van Alstyne relationship to a new level, probing the personal lives of other members of the town’s police department,and personalizing the toll taken by war. (Booklist)
The plot is complicated, and the ethical issues are even thornier. Wisely, Spencer-Fleming treats them with the same delicacy she extends to Clare’s forbidden love. (The New York Times)
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)
Don’t miss this one! You’ll be rooting for Clare Fergusson in this engaging and vital mystery. (April Henry)