Book Review: Hid From Our Eyes by Julia Spencer-Fleming
By Janet WebbApril 7, 2020
Has it really been seven years since the publication of Through the Evil Days? Be assured, fans of The Reverend Clare Fergusson & Russ Van Alstyne Mysteries: lingering questions and cliffhangers are answered in the ninth book. The biggest change since Russ and Clare’s marriage is the arrival of baby Ethan. Clare, a juggler at the best of times, is frayed around the edges as she tries to balance a nursing newborn and her duties at St. Alban’s. Police Chief Russ contends with budget struggles: a perennial problem for him since the city council is ambivalent about whether Millers Kill needs “their own police force.” Why not get policing through the State of New York? Proving himself and his small team worthy on a regular basis is stressful for Russ: for him and the chiefs who preceded him, it gets really old. It won’t take much to cause Russ and Clare’s deck of cards to scatter erratically.
Nineteenth-century American novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne once said, “Time flies over us, but leaves its shadow behind.” Hid from Our Eyes is infused with unsolved deaths, some decades old, and lingering personal travails.
1953. Millers Kill Police Chief Harry McNeil is called to a crime scene where a woman in a party dress has been murdered with no obvious cause of death.
1972. Millers Kill Police Chief Jack Liddle is called to a murder scene of a woman that’s very similar to one he worked as a trooper in the 50s.
Police Chief Harry McNeil could not determine who killed the young “woman in a party dress,” or her cause of death. Police Chief Jack Liddle had a few suspects, including Vietnam War veteran and home-town boy Russ Van Alstyne. It was Russ who “found the body while riding his motorcycle,” which made him the “prime focus of the investigation.” Liddle has known Russ his whole life and doesn’t see him as a murderer (hot-tempered perhaps but nothing more). No guilt can be proved so Russ isn’t charged but neither is he exonerated.
Present-day. Millers Kill Police Chief Russ van Alstyne gets a 911 call that a young woman has been found dead in a party dress, the same MO as the crime he was accused of in the 70s.
The timing could not be worse for Russ and his squad. The survival of his department is on the ballot—how can he and his supporters launch what amounts to a political campaign to save local policing, with constant news stories about Millers Kill most infamous murders?
Clare is worried about Ethan: should he be in local daycare, what about his temperament? These natural concerns are exacerbated by Clare’s guilt that in her first trimester, she fought a losing battle with alcohol and drugs (even though she didn’t know she was pregnant at the time). Clare quit cold turkey when she found out, but addicts know quitting doesn’t ensure serenity nor do cravings disappear. Ethan’s pediatrician tries to reassure her that his behavior reflects his “total environment, not just you,” but Clare isn’t buying it.
“How about the pills?”
“Do you ever want one? Or a drink?”
Every day. Sometimes she could feel the glass in her hand, a little condensation wetting the surface, that feeling right before she took a swallow. Or the slow pulse of warmth spreading through her veins as the Vicodin kicked in, not getting high, not feeling fuzzy, just making life a tiny bit easier.
When you consider how stretched Clare is, how many constituencies she serves, anything that makes “life a tiny bit easier,” is understandably tempting. Thankfully, the Venerable Willard Aberforth, her “spiritual adviser,” a man who wields “truth like a paint scraper,” has a solution.
“You are presently having a problem meeting all your childcare needs. I have a staffing problem. I believe we can help each other.”
“I am attempting to find an internship for a seminary student.”
Clare asks, “What’s the catch?” and she gets a partial answer. The young man, Mr. Langevoort, is the scion of a wealthy family that has a “camp” in the area: “Clare wasn’t fooled by the word “camp.” With an old Dutch name and a family that could escape from the city from months at a time, she’d bet good money it was a rambling compound on its own lake.” Mr. Langevoort is also “exceedingly progressive,” and he is scheduled for “extensive surgery near the end of the year.” Mr. Langevoort, Joni, is a Godsend but perhaps Willard Aberforth could have been more forthcoming. Clare picks up the phone.
“You told me Joni Langevoort was a guy,” she began.
“And hello to you too, Ms. Fergusson. Yes, I did.”
“She’s not a man. She’s a transgender woman. You could at least have given me a heads up. No wonder no one else would take her.”
Spencer-Fleming has a marvelous ability to weave disparate storylines into a cohesive whole. Joni’s wealthy, professional-volunteer mother, steps up to contribute “strategic planning, and some fundraising” for Russ’s Save Our Police campaign. Russ’s investigation of the latest murder smacks into the nexus of summer people, country fairs, and the townsfolk but to say more would reveal too much.
When readers finish Hid From Our Eyes, particularly if they haven’t read the entire series, they’ll pick up In the Bleak Midwinter (first in series excerpt) and plunge in. Julia Spencer-Fleming, in an interview at Criminal Element, summarizes the changes in Clare and Russ’s lives since first they met.
Russ trades comfort for joy, quietness for change and excitement (although he still complains he’d like things to calm down.) Clare discovers she is in the right place, doing the right thing—escaping back to her “simple life” in the army no longer holds any allure. And of course, they both have each other, partners in life, parenthood and, despite Russ’s occasional attempts to keep her out, in detecting.
We’re in excellent hands here. . . and God willing, the 10th Reverend Clare Fergusson & Russ Van Alstyne Mysteries will be coming along the pike in due course.