It must be difficult to write a mystery series that “works,” time and again, without getting formulaic. In my previous encounters with the genre, I’ve typically made it through three books before tiring of the author’s premise and/or characters. So I was pleasantly surprised to find Out of the Deep I Cry the best Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne mystery so far.
For the uninitiated, the series takes place in Millers Kill, a town in New York’s Adirondacks region. Clare Fergusson is an Episcopal Priest at St. Alban’s; Russ Van Alstyne is the Millers Kill Chief of Police. This is an unlikely crime-solving combination, made even more interesting by the mutual and forbidden attraction between the two. Clare has a habit of sticking her nose into police incidents that involve her parishioners, and sometimes her professional link is quite tenuous. And since she’s a priest, not an officer of the law, she often over steps her boundaries and gets both herself and Russ into predicaments. But at the same time, her clerical collar gives her license to enter into situations and gather evidence that Russ could not get easily. It’s a great formula.
In this installment, Clare is counseling a woman with an autistic child, who has held public protests against a doctor’s vaccination practices. Russ gets involved when the doctor disappears. The doctor has strong ties to a local family, the Ketchems, who funded the clinic where he works. The full story behind the doctor, his methods, and his disappearance goes back some 70 years, when the Ketchems were a young farming couple. Spencer-Fleming spins a superb tale that moves between “then” and “now,” bringing historic characters to life and shedding new light on the case.
And of course, there’s that flame between Clare and Russ. Every case they solve provides opportunities for them to be alone, and opportunities for private reflection on their feelings for the other. When they are inevitably thrown together to face a life-threatening situation, their fear intensifies all other emotions. Each book in this series has added new dimensions to their relationship, while leaving much to look forward to in future novels.
Previous books in the series (links take you to my reviews):