Monday, August 25, 2014

ALL MORTAL FLESH by Julia Spencer-Fleming

I want to dislike the Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne books, but I don’t. I like them a lot.

Some reasons I want to dislike them--

They seem manipulated. They are like episodic TV. Each episode ups the ante.

I can’t believe any bishop would keep a minister in a community where she has faced the situations Clare faces.

One of the quickest ways to fracture a congregation or a small community is for the minister to have what appears to be an “inappropriate” relationship. The bishop’s second in command knows about the connection between Clare and Russ.

Sometimes police make unlikely (and convenient for the story) mistakes.

I am almost offended by the ways Russ lets Clare take part in investigations. She goes places where no civilian should ever be.

I watch how everything that happens ratchets up the tension. The state investigator comes in predisposed to trash Russ and Clare. Russ finds out Linda’s secrets, and those secrets are devastating to Russ.

I find much of the premise fantastic (in the sense of unbelievable).

Yet, I like the stories. And my wife loves them. She has read the whole series.

In All Mortal Flesh Russ and his wife Linda separate. Then Linda’s best friend finds Linda murdered in the Van Alstyne house. (This is not a spoiler. The author’s blog mentions this.) 

Russ has made the choice to stay with Linda. He faces a perhaps-not-unusual dilemma. He loves two women--Linda and Clare. But he has decided between them. If his wife will let him, he will be faithful to his vows.

The bishop installs a new deacon in the parish. In the Episcopal church the role of deacon is that of an ordained person whose rank is below the clergy. The new deacon seems to Clare to be the bishop’s spy.

And clearly something terrible is happening in Millers Kill.

The story ends as usual, with intense action threatening one or more of the main characters.

You have to read these books to understand them. For me, one of the best things about them is that Clare Fergusson is a spiritual person. As human as she is, she is more loyal to God (as she sees God) than she is to Russ.

Clare is an intelligent, impulsive, strong, determined woman. She does hard things because she thinks God wants her do them.

The books have a liturgical basis. Most of them start with and are built around words from hymns, prayers or scripture. The titles come from prayers, songs, or scripture.

These are among the strangest books I read. But, as I said, I like them. I have two more to read to complete the series as it stands so far. I have already started on the next one.

P.S. One suggestion. If you have not read any of these books and want to read one, I suggest you start with 2002’s In the Bleak Midwinter. The books build on one another. Reading them from first to last would give continuity to the complete story.



“This just doesn’t strike me as being the church’s business,” Elizabeth said.

“Business? Mankind is our business,” Lois quoted, picking up her notepad and swiveling off her chair. “Mind if I use your phone, Deacon?”

         --The new church deacon argues that Clare should not minister to people outside her congregation.


“So I’m going there to check things out.”

“Why? Is he one of ours?”

A question designed to make Clare snatch out her hair. She fell back on St. Luke. “The Lawyer seeking to justify himself, asked Jesus, ‘Who is my neighbor?’”

The deacon had the grace to look abashed.


“In the short time I’ve been here, I can see how much you care for your congregation. But don’t you think the members of St. Alban’s have a right to expect their rector to keep her focus on them?”

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