Review: I Shall Not Want, by Julia Spencer-Fleming

Like each book that preceded it, the sixth book in the Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne mystery series deals with a social issue.  In I Shall Not Want, the mystery revolves around undocumented immigrants who work almost unobserved on farms near Millers Kill, NY.  When three men are found dead just a few weeks apart, the police begin to suspect a serial killer.  Their prime suspects are members of the Christie family, prosperous farmers who also happen to be semi-literate thugs.  This book also introduces Hadley Knox, a single mother who returns to Millers Kill after a long absence, and uses her experience working in Corrections to land a job with the police.

At first Clare, an Episcopal priest, works hard to keep a healthy distance between herself and Russ, the police chief.  Their growing feelings for one another have caused a lot of problems in the past, both in Russ’ marriage and Clare’s standing with her bishop.  But you know where this is going, right?  Clare’s pastoral duties compel her to get involved in social concerns, and there are various community issues on the fringes that cause her to be on the scene at key moments.  So before you know it she’s up to her ears in the case, and running into Russ at every turn.

This time, the characters and their relationships actually upstage the mystery.  But that was just fine with me.  I was cheering for Hadley as she struggled to show credibility as a police officer, and create a stable home environment for herself and her children.  I had tremendous sympathy for Russ, who was coping with a tragedy.  And despite it being wrong on so many levels, I really wanted Clare and Russ to bridge the distance between them.

Julia Spencer-Fleming is superb at character development.  After six books, I feel like I know these people.  My emotions were genuine, even though I knew none of the people were real.  And although this particular mystery wasn’t as complex as those in earlier books, it was realistic, and had just enough twists to keep me guessing.

Of course I’m not going to tell you how it all works out.  But I’ll say this:  the ending was so satisfying for the characters that I’m tempted not to read the next book, just so I can leave them all right there.