Monday, May 30, 2011

Review: One Was A Soldier

One Was A Soldier
Julia Spencer-Fleming
Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne/Book 7
Thomas Dunne/April 12, 2011

*Spoilers for previous books*

From the inside cover ~

On a warm September evening in the Millers Kill community center, five veterans sit down in rickety chairs to try to make sense of their experiences in Iraq. Wht they will find is murder, conspiracy, and the unbreakable ties that bind them to one another and their small Adirondack town.

The Rev. Clare Fergusson wants to forget the things she saw as a combat helicopter pilot and concentrate on her relationship with Chief of Police Russ Van Alstyne. MP Eric McCrea needs to control the explosive anger threatening his job as a police officer. Will Ellis, high school track star, faces the reality of life as a double amputee. Orthopedist Trip Stillman is denying the extent of his traumatic brain injury. And bookkeeper Tally McNabb wrestles with guilt over the in-country affair that may derail her marriage.

But coming home is harder than it looks. One vet will struggle with drugs and alcohol. One will lose his family and friends. One will die.

Since their first meeting, Russ and Clare's bond has been tried torn,and forged by adversity. But when he rules the veteran's death a suicide, she violently rejects his verdict, drawing the surviving vets into an unorthodox investigation that threatens jobs, relationships, and her own future with Russ.

As the days cool and the nights grow longer, they will uncover a trail of deceit that runs from their tiny town to the upper ranks of the U.S. Army, and from the waters of the Millers Kill to the unforgiving streets of Baghdad.

Julia Spencer-Fleming's series about a small town police chief and a Episcopal priest took me by surprise. I certainly wasn't expecting to like it as much as I do. It's not a traditional romance, in fact, the romance was muted up until the previous book. A married, older hero and a mid-thirties former army helo pilot turned Reverend does not sound like the makings of a romance. And yet, Spencer-Fleming makes it work. I think part of that is due to the fact that the romance isn't the main focus. Russ and Clare have some romantic moments but their relationship is based in reality not some fantasy realm of super sexy heroes and beautiful, alluring heroines. These are real people with very real problems that are not always resolved neatly and tied with a bow. Maybe that's why I enjoy this series so much - for the realness of the characters.

It's been eighteen months since Clare left for Iraq. Long months for Russ, left at home in Millers Kill, waiting for Clare's return so they can get on with their lives. But for now, their lives have been put on hold. Now the light at the tunnel is getting brighter with Clare's homecoming nearly here. Often we get the homecoming perspective from the woman's POV but this time it's from Russ, a combat veteran who is a nervous wreck.

He thrust the roses toward her. Two more ragged petals fell to the concrete floor. The bouquest looked as if a goat had been chewing on it. She bit her lip, just barely keeping a smile from breaking out. "Why, thank you, Chief Van Alstyne." She took the flowers in both hands and buried her face in what remained of them. She had tiny lines etched along the outsides of her eyes that hadn't been there when she left.

Russ isn't the only one who's nervous. Neither Clare nor Russ are quite sure what to do. They know what they want to do but are still unaccustomed to being able to display any affection in public.

He stepped toward her just as she bent to reshoulder her rucksack. She let go, opening her arms in time for him to nearly knock her over as he ducked to grab the duffel for her.

"Screw this." He kicked the canvas sack to one side and took her by the shoulders. "C'mere." She folded inside his embrace as if she had always been there, and he kept his arms hard around her, his cheek resting on her too light, too short hair. Letting the reality of her, the warmth and weight and solidity of her, sink into his bones.

"Holding on," she said against his chest.
"Not letting go."
page 13

I love this scene and how once they let their feeling out, they are truly home. Another thing I like about their relationship is the sexual tension. Their ages don't hold them back one bit and I find it refreshing.

The romance between Clare and Russ has been progressing along nicely but it isn't the whole focus of the story. This is still very much a mystery with Russ and Clare in the middle of it. Russ may be the chief of police and the true detective of the series but Clare's smart and nosy. She likes getting into the middle of things, even when those things are the cases Russ and his police force are working on. Clare is naturally inquisitive and at heart a caregiver. She needs to help people. Sometimes she goes a little too far and I can see why Russ becomes frustrated and angry with her. But he understands her and while they do argue, the strong love and respect they feel for each other holds them together.

The mystery is complex in that it has a number of different avenues that the police and the reader must explore before everything is tied together. And it's not just the Millers Kill PD that is involved but the Army as well. I liked the way the Army is tied into this small town, with the soldiers home but still bringing their military experiences with them. The impact of what they went through doesn't stop when they hit American soil. It's now a part of them and they must learn to adjust to their new self.

It was good to catch up with the residents of Millers Kill. I especially like the secondary plot between Hadley Knox and Kevin Flynn. Seeing all these characters again felt like coming home. Spencer-Fleming makes them each unique and real, no one is perfect, they all have their flaws. They are not only easy to relate to but easy to believe.

As the story progresses Russ and Clare both have to deal with the direction their relationship is taking. Clare has a tendency of taking on other peoples problems in order to ignore her own. Russ is busy investigating the veteran's death and the Army's involvement. I like how they each have their own interests, they're not dependent on each other to fill their time.

The story has a number of sub-plots going, getting everyone into the action at some point. While I liked the various story lines, at times it felt like there was a little too much going on. In the end, most were either resolved or given a temporary reprieve. There is still much to look forward to, with a little cliffhanger to keep us anxious for the next book.

Rating: A-

Books in this series ~

In the Bleak Midwinter
A Fountain Filled with Blood
Out of the Deep I Cry
To Darkness and to Death
All Mortal Flesh
I Shall Not Want
One Was A Soldier


  1. I have heard lots of good things about this series. I have finally caved and started reading the first book. So far I like it.

  2. Marg ~ Good for you! I hope you enjoy it. It's addicting. :)