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American/Cozy Mysteries

I Shall Not Want, Julia Spencer-Fleming, St. Martin's Minotaur, $24.95.

I Shall Not Want by Julia Spencer-Fleming

I admit that at this point in Spencer-Fleming's series, I'm hardly an objective reader. I am seriously hooked on her series characters, Clare and Russ, and couldn't wait for this book to come out to see how this author resolved the emotional issues she had left, shall we say, untethered, at the end of the last book, All Mortal Flesh. The next sentence or two contains a spoiler, so if you haven't read All Mortal Flesh yet, skip ahead to the next review. As loyal readers of this series are aware, the unmarried Episcopal priest, Clare Fergusson, has been pining (not in an requited fashion) for the married police chief, Russ Van Alstyne. In the last book, Russ's wife was killed, but the two were estranged by grief and guilt. When this book opens, they still aren't really talking, even though it's months later.

The book opens with a shootout and then backtracks to the set up - always an effective device, and very effective here. Clare becomes involved with Russ again when she meets the sexton's daughter who has just moved to town with her children and the daughter gets a job at the police department. When Clare then meets a congenial nun at a church function, she's called to the nun's side when she's in a car accident as she's driving some migrant workers to their jobs. This of course also involves the police and Russ in particular. One of the migrant workers has papers and the others disappear into the wilderness; Clare takes this man in, giving him the sexton's job temporarily as the sexton has had a heart attack. When bodies of various Hispanic men start turning up all over town - one on Russ's sister's land, one during a church picnic, the case starts to be dangerous for Clare, and she and Russ are inevitably thrown together.

Spencer-Fleming is a total expert at both set suspense pieces which are usually both original and beautifully written, and at then detailing the emotional fallout. This kind of detail is what has really hooked her readers, though her gifts with suspense and plot don't hurt either. This novel has a complex plot that takes the whole town into its scope - Russ and Clare truly have a context to exist in and it's nicely detailed. All the characters are as memorable as the primary ones, a talent that only the most gifted writers possess. And as always in a Spencer-Fleming novel, it's the ending that gets you emotionally, and hooks you for the next read. Suffice it to say that while some things are resolved, others are not, and you'll be looking forward to the next book as much as I am. Another bravura effort from a writer who is no longer a talented newcomer, just one of the more talented mystery writers around, period.

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