REVIEW: I Shall Not Want by Julia Spencer-Fleming
Dear Ms. Spencer-Fleming
As I blogged a couple of days ago, this series has been a long time favorite of friend and fellow reader, Keishon. I trust Keishon’s judgment quite a bit. She’s led me to read some wonderful mystery authors. However, I long held back from reading this series because of the relationship dynamic between the married Sheriff Russ Van Alstyne and the Episcopalian priest, Clare Fergusson. I received an email from the publicity department asking if I was interested in this new book because the publicist felt that the story would have strong romance appeal. It seemed like the right moment to start, even though it is book 6.
It’s kind of complicated book to summarize without making the story appear super complicated, which it really isn’t. The story takes place over one year. Sheriff Russ Van Alstyne is grieving over the loss of his wife, a senseless and preventable loss. Reverend Clare is suffering the after effects of killing a man to save Russ’ life, her love for a man who can’t seem to return it, and the issues with the leaders of her diocese.
Bodies of hispanic men are soon discovered on abandoned properties around Millers Kill; illegals are working as farm hands on Russ’ sisters’ farm, and the Millers Kill PD has $10 million worth of marijuana to deal with.
Hadley Knox has come to Millers Kill, a small town in upstate New York to start a new life with her two children. Knox is a beautiful woman who found "that gorgeous girls are literally a dime a dozen" in California. In Millers Kill, the best paying available job is one with the police department. Kevin Flynn is smitten in an instant of seeing Hadley but she’s got no time for men anymore.
The story is really three romances that revolve around the mystery of the hispanic men and the marijuana. The mystery isn’t really hidden very well but I felt that was intentional. The suspense is driven both whether the police will be able to solve the mystery of the killings before more happen and by the emotional mystery surrounding Russ and Clare.
I could see almost immediately why Keishon liked the Russ/Clare books so much. The writing is smart, incisive in its characterizations, and descriptive.
"You cling to your faults like a woman clinging to her lover" says Clare’s own confessor, Father Aberforth. or "As always these days, the thought of her brought with it a wave of longing and loss and guilt and self-loathing. For once, he welcomed the acidic brew." Russ thinks to himself at one point when contemplating Clare.
There is no time wasted on extraneous details. The secondary characters that move in and out provide background color such as the church secretary who knows everything, eventually, or Sister Lucille who declares that celibacy makes one fearless. The small town nature is evident in the gossip that rages from one end of the town to the other faster than a lightning bug flickers.
There are so many quotable parts of the book that show a real elegance and mastery, ranging from poignant to funny and back again.
Clare would have killed Hugh, except that she was caught, stomach clenched, wondering what Russ would say. Loathing herself for hoping like a girl at a middle-school dance.
He stood very still. Finally he said, “I’m on duty,” He nodded to her. “Enjoy yourself.” There he walked away, leaving Hugh looking triumphant and Clare wishing she were a lesbian. Maybe then she’d never have to deal with male id iocy again.
“Stop looking at me like that.”
“Like you want to eat me or something.”
He smiled slowly. “I do.”
She stumbled. He caught her and steadied her until she regained the rhythm.
“You make me think of those great glazed doughnuts they have over at the Kreemie Kakes diner,” he went on.
“I make you think of a doughnut?”
He shrugged. “I am a cop.”
I particularly loved this line:
He could have resisted her bare skin, but her naked faith broke him.
The sentence has a duality that is obvious much like the title "I Shall Not Want". The phrase could be blessing, describing someone who is richly rewarded, wanting for nothing. It could also be an admonishment, reminding someone of what they should forego.
I felt the title most richly described Russ who I sometimes saw as a Tragedy Andy, a martyr whose guilt wouldn’t let him move forward. His life was empty at times, yet what would fulfill it, he would not allow himself to have. Part of this, I attributed to the fact that if this was a romance, I wanted the two together already dammit. Obviously, they’ve suffered 5 books apart for any number of reasons that I wasn’t full cognizant of. Like Clare, Russ clings to his faults, to his "could have and should have’ done self arguments. However, the point at which he decides to put these aside are really delightful.
What was problematic wasn’t so much this book in particular but where it stood in the phalanx of books. As I wrote to Keishon in an email, it wasn’t so much that I didn’t like this book. I did. How could I not. It’s that I felt like I had missed out on a lot not having read the previous five books. I wonder if I’ll get a chance to read the previous five and if I’ve ruined that by reading "the ending." It’s not to say that this is the end of the Russ/Clare stories. I think you must have more to write, but it’s some kind of closure and some kind of end that I think would have been more meaningful and more emotional had I followed along since the start. So I don’t regret reading this story. I regret I don’t have more time to have read all six of the stories of Russ/Clare. I’ll be in line for the next installment. B+
NOTE: The first two books in this series can be downloaded for free up until the end of today, June 12, 2008, 11:59 EST.