When a long-running and beloved book series takes an unexpected hiatus, there will naturally be some trepidation after a new entry in the series is finally announced. “Will we still feel those bonds to the characters?” “Has the author lost that magical mojo that made the series so special?” “What if the genre moved on beyond that style of novel or sub-genre?” In the case of Julia Spencer-Fleming’s Clare Fergusson and Russ Van Alstyne series, readers can rest comfortably knowing that there is no risk at all. Even though it has been roughly seven years since the previous book in the series, next week brings about Hid From Our Eyes, one of Julia Spencer-Fleming’s best novels yet. Nine books into this series, this novel will obviously appeal to loyal fans, but it also works perfectly well for new readers.
Clare and Russ’s relationship has traveled a very complex and difficult path, but as Hid From Our Eyes opens, things have settled down on the home-front…well as settled as things can be with a new baby in the mix. As Clare struggles to find the perfect balance between her work as a priest at St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in Millers Kill and her new role as a mother to their newborn son, she begins to question her success at either. Thankfully, there is new resident in town who is willing to lend a helping hand in exchange for some training and counseling from the Reverend Fergusson.
Meanwhile, with an approaching vote on whether or not to keep the Millers Kill police department running, Chief Russ Van Alstyne is busy hosting town-halls and talking with every citizen in the hopes of convincing them how relying solely on the state police would only hinder the safety of their quiet enclave. Can he drum up enough support before it is too late?
Amidst all this personal and political turmoil, Julia Spencer-Fleming provides readers with one hell of a mystery plot-line…well, technically more than one. When Russ is called to the discovery of a body lying by the roadside, he immediately connects it to a very similar death from 1972 – one in which he was the main suspect. In turn, that unsolved 1972 case hearkens back to another very similar death in 1952 – which also remains unsolved. In all three instances, the body of a young woman in fancy dress is discovered by the road with no apparent cause of death. Even an autopsy cannot pinpoint whether there was even malicious intent involved in the passings, but each of the police chiefs heading those cases believes they were homicides. Yet, how could one killer cross the decade divide?
Weaving details of three different (but similar) cases together across the action of a book is challenging, but Julia Spencer-Fleming makes it look easy. Readers are never confused about in which decade each chapter is set; and the further along in the novel, the more these little connections begin to form, linking our story-lines into one massive mystery. Having your main protagonist be the prime suspect is not an original conceit in crime fiction, but here the author never allows that to become cliché and avoids the expected at every opportunity.
Skillfully tying these three cases together into a satisfying whole is enough of a challenge, but Julia Spencer-Fleming takes it even further. Each of the various “domestic” plot-lines in this novel reflect on, are affected by, and alter the course of Russ’s murder investigation. Ultimately, Hid From Our Eyes is structured as a complex web where only one misplaced thread would result in total collapse. Fortunately, and not at all surprisingly, Julia Spencer-Fleming is far too skilled a writer to make any such error and the conclusion of this novel brings about satisfying ends for *all* of the story-lines, while leaving readers eager for the next novel is this phenomenal series.
Disclaimer: A print galley of this title was provided to BOLO Books by the author. No review was promised and the above is an unbiased review of the novel.