RogerBW's Blog

To Darkness and to Death, Julia Spencer-Fleming 28 July 2023

2005 mystery (modern police procedural plus amateur), fourth in its series. The old family woodland is going to be sold to an alliance of environmental group and logging company, and that triggers a variety of bad behaviour.

I don't think it was necessarily the author's intention, but I came out of this thinking that these people have a real cultural masculinity problem. Most of what goes wrong in this book is caused by unconsidered violence being the first impulsive response to an awkward situation, followed by a desperate scramble to cover up, which then causes more problems and drags in more people as conspirators, victims, or both.

This also means that we get extended passages from killer's perspective and from future victim's perspective, something I generally don't like in mystery stories – it's fair enough as a way of setting a mood, I suppose, and the economic collapse of the region as hard male-coded logging jobs move out and soft female-coded tourism jobs (to a very limited and seasonal extent) move in does get looked at from multiple perspectives, but I'd have preferred to read a version of this story that stuck with the viewpoint of the investigators and presented the game fairly; tension while reading this book comes not from trying to work out the solution, but from being concerned as to whether the investigators will reach the right solution, and in time.

Of course we also get the they-want-to-but-they-can't romance of van Alstyne (married police chief) and Ferguson (Episcopalian priest already in trouble with the church for not hating gay people enough, and more generally for trying to be actually Christian rather than just part of the polite establishment). They do at least take some actions that don't involve mooning over each other, though I'm unconvinced that van Alstyne telling all to his wife Linda will have the positive effects he expects. (And after being introduced as something of a stereotyped hard businesswoman in the first book, Linda has gradually turned into a figure I find quite sympathetic, unhappy about her husband giving not only his working hours but most of his leisure time to his dangerous job.)

There are some awkward late revelations (if X knew this thing about Y all along, why did they behave the way they did earlier) and I'm getting a feeling that Spencer-Fleming is having trouble settling on the sort of story she wants to tell beyond the relationship drama. But these books are still weirdly interesting to me.

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Previous in series: Out of the Deep I Cry | Series: Fergusson-Van Alstyne | Next in series: All Mortal Flesh

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