Julia Spencer-Fleming: Hid from Our Eyes

If you’re a fan of Julia Spencer-Fleming’s, you’ll be delighted to know that Hid From Our Eyes picks up right where One Was a Soldier left off.  Since it’s been awhile I’ll recap: Episcopal priest Clare Fergusson and her husband Russ Van Alstyne have welcomed their first child (read the book to find out the child’s name and sex).  Clare is in addiction recovery, and believably – for anyone familiar with addiction – she teeters from sober to wishing she wasn’t.  That’s the rich background.

Spencer-Fleming tends to write on an epic scale, and this book is no exception to that rule.  Filling her canvass with richly drawn and memorable characters, she also creates a wonderful mystery that’s actually – mysterious.  There are three separate cases of dead girls abandoned on the highway with no apparent cause of death, and the deaths are decades apart.  The first one was in 1952; the next, 1972; and then there’s a present day case.

None of the cases were solved, and in the 1972 case, Russ was actually a suspect.  Spencer-Fleming takes her time connecting the cases, the victims, and the investigators, but she does connect them in an incredible fashion.  The mystery part seems to be a hard nut to crack and while Spencer-Fleming does supply some clues, other factors are unknowns.

Complicating matters is the fact that the town is thinking of shutting down the police department and letting state troopers handle local crime.  Clare is struggling with handling a newborn and working more or less full time at her church, and she also wants to help Russ solve the case, as it looks bad for the police department he’s trying to save to have an unsolved case.

Spencer-Fleming is expert at setting the sword of Damocles above her characters and having them operate underneath it, finding solutions in messy, human ways that strike at the reader’s heart.  I think that’s one reason this series is beloved.  Another is the rich Adirondack setting, and still another is Spencer-Fleming’s pure skill as a mystery writer.

And there’s another.  Throughout the book, there are characters who need or are being given a second chance.  Misfits or those who have suffered misfortunes – all of them, Spencer-Fleming is telling the reader, have deserved a second chance.   The book is full of characters, starting with Russ and Clare, who have made mistakes and who have been given another chance.  Don’t give up on anyone, she seems to be telling us.

This optimism, for want of a better word, connects her to writers like Louise Penny and William Kent Krueger, who also deal with dark subjects but whose essential message is one of optimism.  There are few better ways to make a series beloved.  The other way, and it’s a skill Spencer-Fleming also possesses in spades, is writing an ending that leaves the reader hanging.  You want more when you finish the book – you want to know what happens next.  This is a wonderful reunion with Clare and Russ.