Welcome to Murder by the Book's blog about what we've read recently. You can find our website at www.mbtb.com.

Monday, April 30, 2012

One Was a Soldier, by Julia Spencer-Fleming ($15)

We jump forward several months from Julia Spencer-Fleming's last book. Her unusual protagonist, Episcopal priest/helicopter pilot Clare Fergusson, has just returned from a stint in Iraq as a pilot to her diocese and life in Miller's Kill, New York.

As far as I can tell, it's 2002 and many of the book's characters have returned to normal lives after their abnormal experiences away from Miller's Kill. They meet in a veteran's therapy session that postdates Clare's return by about five months. When one of the group's members dies, it hits the group hard, not only because there could be malfeasance associated with the death but also because it forces acknowledgement that nowhere is safe.

There are actually two books in one, the first dealing with the mystery surrounding the death and the other about Clare and her fellow damaged souls. It is the latter story that is deep, rich, human and worth telling. We learn how each member deals with the mental and physical injuries he or she has acquired away from home.

How can Clare care for her congregation if she won't acknowledge her alcohol and pill problem? How can she enter into a more serious relationship with Police Chief Russ Van Alstyne if she can't be honest with him? How can she unravel the mystery of her fellow member's death if she won't acknowledge that maybe she can't provide the solutions to everybody's problems all the time?

Spencer-Fleming plumbs human emotions very well. Her main characters suffer from conflict and confusion and helplessness. It is the illuminating journey forward that makes half of this book a cut above.

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