Sunday, September 19

A Fountain Filled With Blood – Julia Spencer-Fleming

Now aware of her mutual attraction with the married police chief of Millers Kill, New York, town Episcopal priest Clare Fergusson is consciously concentrating on her duties as a pastor and community member, which is why she’s attending her first alderman’s meeting. Accompanied by Paul Foubert, nursing director of the town infirmary, Clare is both learning who’s who, thanks to Paul’s whispered commentary, and hearing for the first time about a controversial development that could significantly increase revenue, but possibly contribute to elevated PCB levels in the water supply. When the meeting is interrupted by the arrival of Russ Van Alstyne her heart, despite her best intentions, gladdens a little. But Russ brings devastating news – the town’s medical examiner, and Paul’s partner, Dr Emil Dvorak, has been found beaten almost to death.
When video store owner Todd MacPherson, also gay, is also severely beaten, Clare is convinced that a group of homophobes is on the loose. In both cases neither money nor valuables were taken, and Clare wants Russ to make an announcement warning any other gay townsfolk to be aware of the danger. Russ, on the other hand, believes there’s not yet any evidence that the sexual orientation of the victims is more than coincidence. His concern is that a premature declaration could lead to copycat attacks. With the discovery of a third victim, also gay, and still in shock from seeing the battered body, Clare is unable to stop herself from speaking to the press, gathered to cover a protest against the Millers Kill development. Almost as soon as she does she’s filled with remorse, fearful she’s damaged the dear but already delicate friendship she has with Russ. To atone, Clare throws herself into a parallel investigation into the attacks and, particularly under the influence of a couple of cocktails, gets herself into a truly dangerous predicament. But Bill Ingraham was also the development company head, and the situation is more complicated than either Clare or Russ imagined.
This is the second in the Reverend Clare Fergusson series, and I enjoyed it as much as the first, though I felt that this time the case receded to the background, giving centre stage to the relationship between Clare and Russ. Some of this constitutes part of their unfurling character development, so there are references to the sexist but relatively benign hostility Clare faced in the army, and flashes of Russ’s wartime experiences in Vietnam. We also get to see Clare’s love of flying, the greatest sacrifice made on the alter of her faith, and a striking contrast to Russ’s Vietnam war-influenced antipathy to helicopters. There are a couple of secondary plots, but much of the action served to throw them together, and there’s a nice hurt/comfort section quite late in the novel, though no vows come close to being broken except in the Jimmy Carter sense.
I did pick the perpetrator relatively early on which, as I don’t actively try to work out who dunnit, is usually indicative of poor writing. But in this case I was significantly less interest in that aspect of the story, and so didn’t particularly mind. I didn’t come close to working out all the intricacies of why, but didn’t really care about he motivation, which was at least internally consistent. Without the mystery this would have been a weak novel, and the attacks were definitely needed to drive the story, but that aspect is definitely a sub-plot. For that reason I think A Fountain Filled With Blood would be most disappointing if read alone, but read in context, and with In the Bleak Midwinter still very fresh in my mind I found the experience thoroughly enjoyable, and have already borrowed the third in the series. - Alex

The Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne series:
1. In the Bleak Midwinter
2. A Fountain Filled with Blood
3. Out of the Deep I Cry
4. To Darkness and to Death
5. All Mortal Flesh
6. I Shall Not Want

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