I Shall Not Want

Julia Spencer-Fleming
2008, Mystery
St. Martin's, $24.95, 336 pages, Amazon ASIN 0312334877
Part of a series

Grade: B+
Sensuality: Subtle

In the past eight weeks or so I have devoured all six of Julia Spencer-Fleming's Rev. Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne mysteries. I was hooked from the very first book by the chemistry between the pair as well as the author's strong writing and solid plotting. I Shall Not Want is the most recent look into the lives of a small town Episcopal priest and sheriff in surprisingly crime-ridden Millers Kill, New York.

For those unfamiliar with this series, it revolves around the lives of Clare, the aforesaid Episcopal priest whose liberal Christian views mesh well with her intense need to help others, and Russ Van Alstyne, her older, recently widowed tortured love interest who also happens to be town sheriff. The road to a romantic love has not been smooth for these two. They have denied, repressed, and tried to limit their exposure to each other, but Millers Kill is a small town and they have an innate understanding and respect for each other, as well as all of these feelings. And these mysteries keep cropping up too...

Clare, as well as being remarkably empathetic, cannot seem to keep her nose out of situations, especially ones that reek of injustice. In I Shall Not Want the injustice is the plight of the migrant worker. Millers Kill seems lily white, but it a significant population of Latino workers, many of them illegals. Clare doesn't care about legal or illegal, she wants to get them help. She wants them to have access to health care and to be paid fairly and to work in safe conditions. But when she dips her toe into this pool, she is going to pull it out again bloody. Because someone is killing migrant workers, shooting them execution style and leaving their bodies to rot in the exposed areas surrounding Millers Kill. When Russ and Clare begin to investigate, they uncover an uglier, messier side to migrant farming than they believed existed in their little town.

This book can be read on its own, but the reader who begins the series here will miss Spencer-Fleming's slow and steady build-up of sexual and emotional tension between our noble but fallible protagonists as well as stumble across spoilers for the previous mysteries. It would be far better to start the series at the beginning with In the Bleak Midwinter and proceed from there. But readers who pick up the series with this book will still get a solid mystery full of multi-dimensional primary and secondary characters.

Clare and Russ have already been well established in character and conundrum, but in this book Spencer-Fleming introduces a new secondary character, Hadley Knox, a young single mother looking to start fresh in Millers Kill. Hadley is in need of good steady employment and winds up on the Millers Kill force which has been largely male territory. Her adventures on the force add a lighter note to a book that dips frequently into darker territory as Russ and Clare investigate a series of horrors and deal with the morass of guilt and sadness that has been their private lives.

Many of the books in this series have revolved around issues, and in this case it is immigration and its role in farming. Spencer-Fleming presents it in all of its complexity - the bureaucracy of the federal government as well as the difficulties this bureaucracy presents for the small farmer who operates on a small profit margin and just needs to get the farm work done. She also explores the relative helplessness of aliens alone without recourse in a strange land. Not a lot of solutions are offered, but it does give the reader food for thought.

I started reading this series unsure of where it would go in terms of the relationship between Clare and Russ. On the one hand, I wanted them to be together, as they are clearly soul mates. On the other, I wanted them to act ethically and responsibly and to not hurt the people around them. Throughout the series, the likelihood that they would ever achieve their own Happily Ever After seemed less and less, but (and I realize I am treading on spoiler territory here) for those readers to whom this would matter greatly, which I suspect is the majority of AAR's readership, I will say this - I am not recommending these books maliciously or sadistically. There is an ending of sorts here, as much as there can be one for a continuing series, and I think it will satisfy.

I Shall Not Want kept me interested both in terms of the mystery and the character development. Julia Spencer-Fleming is not yet a star in the publishing world, but if there is any fairness in life, she will be someday. Her books are compulsively readable and highly enjoyable, and I am only sorry that I will have to wait for next year to read more of Clare and Russ.

-- Rachel Potter

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