A Fountain Filled With Blood, by Julia Spencer-Fleming

>> Tuesday, November 16, 2010

TITLE: A Fountain Filled With Blood
AUTHOR: Julia Spencer-Fleming

COPYRIGHT: 2004
PAGES: 400
PUBLISHER: St. Martin's

SETTING: Contemporary Millers Kill, small town in the Adirondacks
TYPE: Mystery
SERIES: Second in the Claire Fergusson / Russ Van Alstyn series.

REASON FOR READING: I loved the first book, In the Bleak Midwinter.

It's summertime in in the Adirondack town of Millers Kill, and temperatures are running high. Local activists are up in arms over a resort being built at the site of an old toxic waste dump. A series of violent homophobic assaults have left several men hospitalized. And Police Chief Russ Van Alstyne and Episcopal priest Clare Fergusson are discovering that it's impossible to ignore the heat. When the resort developer, a gay man, is found brutally murdered, Clare and Russ will have to face up to their own past demons--and their present temptations--to sweat out the truth behind the killing.
A Fountain Filled With Blood starts with an extremely disturbing scene, in which a series of gay bashing incidents culminate in a violent attack on the town's medical examiner, who happens to be gay. Before long, he's not the only victim of the attackers.

But that's not the only trouble in Millers Kill that summer. A land developer is trying to get a project approved, and chemicals, possibly from an old waste site, are discovered near a children's playground, sparking off protests. And Claire manages to find herself involved in every single one of those issues.

I read Spencer-Fleming just as much for the mysteries as I do for the relationship between her main characters. And that says a lot about how well plotted her books are, because the relationship between Episcopalian priest Claire Fergusson and sheriff Russ van Alstyn is bloody fantastic. They met in the previous book and immediately clicked, their friendship becoming very deep very quickly. But there's also a definite hint of something else there, something potentially extremely problematic, especially given the fact that Claire is a priest, committed to living morally, and Russ is married to a woman he (tells himself he) loves.

In AFFWB their friendship and liking continue to develop and become deeper, but they hit some conflicts here. Claire doesn't agree with the tack Russ takes in a certain area, and her struggle between being loyal to her friend and doing what she thinks is right ends up creating much trouble between them. It's all really riveting.

The only element of the book I didn't like was that Claire's involvement in the detective work didn't feel as organic as it had in the first book. In In The Bleak Midwinter, it seemed perfectly natural that she'd be in places which meant she'd become involved in the issues. Here, although her initial involvement is well justified and flows perfectly well from her work as a priest, she also does some very silly things. It was bad enough at one point that I kept wondering who this woman was who thought she was Nancy Drew. Certainly not the Clare I know and love!

But that was not a huge issue, and on the whole, this was an excellent read. In addition to being a great mystery and having wonderful characters, it also had a very vivid sense of place, which is always a plus. Millers Kill in the summer feels completely different than it did in the winter, as we saw it in ITBM, but it feels just as real.

MY GRADE: A B+.

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