>> Wednesday, April 09, 2014
TITLE: To Darkness And To Death
AUTHOR: Julia Spencer-Fleming
PUBLISHER: St. Martin's
SETTING: Contemporary US
SERIES: 4th in the Rev. Clare Fergusson / Russ Van Alstyne series
Millicent van der Hoeven has decided to sell her family's Adirondack estate to a nature conservancy. But on the day of the land transfer, her brother frantically calls the police. Millie has disappeared in the cold November forest...
Reverend Clare Fergusson gets an early morning phone call to join the Millers Kill search and rescue operation. As a former Army helicopter pilot trained in survival skills, she can't refuse the request--even though it's the day of the bishop's annual visit. Worse for Clare, the search operation will link her up with Russ Van Alstyne, the very married local police chief who is her greatest temptation. Now, as Clare and Russ race time to find Millie van der Hoeven, they soon discover the secrets of someone who is desperate to stop the sale...and a deadly madness waiting to destroy them all.
To Darkness and To Death was my least favourite of the series so far. As in previous books, there are two main elements here. There's a mystery, and there's also the development of the relationship between Clare Fergusson, an Episcopal priest still relatively new to a small town in upstate New York, and Russ Van Alstyne, the chief of police. Over the series so far, Clare and Russ have become good friends, but those feelings have turned into something beyond friendship now. Problem is, Russ is married; happily married, he would even have said.
So, the thing about this book was that one of the elements worked well, but the other didn't. My big problem was with the mystery plot. The action takes place all in one day. It's an important day, the day when the rich Van Der Hoevens will be signing over huge tracts of their land to a conservancy organisation. Only, when Millie van der Hoeven's brother wakes up that morning he finds her gone and suspects she never came back after a late walk through the forest the previous evening. Did she get lost or is there something more sinister going on? We know it's the latter, as one of the first scenes we get shows us Millie is being kept captive by parties unknown.
But that's not all that's happening. The land transfer is generating all sorts of other changes for the people in the area. Local loggers will not be able to operate in that land, and any other woods are too far to make the work profitable. And without them, the local mill loses access to the raw material they need. Many people have an interest in all of this, and before the day is out, they will all get involved in one way or another.
Basically, this means that there are a lot of people running around doing nasty things. I found it incredibly depressing, because we're not talking criminals, we're talking characters who were presented to us as regular people, people who care about their loved ones and their fellow human beings. I could have taken maybe one of them turning bad. Yes, I can accept that some people, when under some pressure, might be tempted to do things that they know are wrong and will hurt others. But here, everyone did. They did incredibly dodgy things for supposedly good people. Faced with evidence of wrongdoing, they immediately turned their thoughts to how they could take advantage of it, however illegal their actions would be, in turn. It's a horrible view of human nature. It ended up taking me over a month to read this, because I really didn't want to spend time with these characters.
The tone was also wrong. There was a definite touch of the slapstick here, and it all felt almost like a farce. It didn't work for me. Additionally, there was absolutely no suspense, because suspense is about more than not knowing what's going to happen, it's about caring what's going to happen, and I didn't. Pretty much all the characters involved, other than Russ and Clare? I could not care less if they dropped dead. And when the resolution came, there were things that really didn't make much sense.
The Clare and Russ element of the book, though, was good. There aren't that many interactions between them here, but at this stage in the series we're past beyond the point where the author needs to show us how well-suited they are and how much chemistry they have. We know, they know, and each knows the other knows. The issue here is how the situation can be resolved, or rather, whether it has to be resolved, or whether they will just continue as they are, friends who know they want to be more but won't do it because it's wrong. The issue is, is that longing just as wrong? Is there any way to resolve this ethically? I won't include any spoilers here, but I'll just say that there is some movement here, and that I'm very interested to see what will happen in the next book.
So yeah, I will be reading the next book. I know that Spencer-Fleming can do really good mysteries, because the last 3 have been exactly that, and I'm really looking forward to seeing how the soap opera continues.
MY GRADE: A C.