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To Darkness and to Death: A Clare Fergusson and Russ Van Alstyne Mystery

To Darkness and to Death: A Clare Fergusson and Russ Van Alstyne Mystery

4.3 40
by Julia Spencer-Fleming

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Saturday, November 14, 5:00 A.M.

In the small Adirondack town of Millers Kill, an old lumberman sits in the dark with his gun across his knees. Not far away, an unemployed logger sleeps off his bender from the night before. The owner of the town's last paper mill tosses in his bed. And a young woman, one of three heirs to the 250,000-acre Great Camp, wakes


Saturday, November 14, 5:00 A.M.

In the small Adirondack town of Millers Kill, an old lumberman sits in the dark with his gun across his knees. Not far away, an unemployed logger sleeps off his bender from the night before. The owner of the town's last paper mill tosses in his bed. And a young woman, one of three heirs to the 250,000-acre Great Camp, wakes alone in darkness, bound and gagged.

Chief of Police Russ Van Alstyne wants nothing more than a quiet day of hunting in the mountains on his fiftieth birthday. His wife needs to have the town's new luxury resort ready for its gala opening night. The Reverend Clare Fergusson expects to spend the day getting St. Alban's Church ready for the bishop's annual visit. Her long-distance suitor from New York expects some answers about their relationship during his weekend in town.

In Millers Kill, where everyone knows everyone and all are part of an interconnected web of blood or acquaintance, one person's troubles have a way of ensnaring others. What begins as a simple case of a woman lost in the woods leads to a tangle of revenge, blackmail, assault, kidnapping, and murder. As the hours tick by, Russ and Clare struggle to make sense of their town's plunge into chaos---and their own chaotic emotions.

Something terrible waits in the ice-rimed mountains cradling Millers Kill. Something that won't be content with just one death---or two. . .

Julia Spencer-Fleming continues her moving story of the way a small town, as well as a great city, can harbor evil, and the struggle of two honest people to deal with the ever-present threat of their feelings for one another.

Editorial Reviews

The Barnes & Noble Review
For Clare Ferguson, former army helicopter pilot turned Episcopal priest, Lent should be a time of quiet reflection and preparation. Instead, two crises are disturbing the spiritual peace of her home in the rural New York town of Millers Kill.

First, the leaks in the church roof have reached the point where everyone agrees that some kind of fix is finally necessary. Whether to go the cheap-and-ugly or expensive-and-lovely route is the last remaining decision facing the vestry. Despite the cost, Clare is pleased when they vote for expensive and lovely. But others are less pleased…especially after local philanthropist Lacey Ketchem Marshall kicks off the fundraising by announcing she's pulling the endowment her mother left to the family-founded Ketchem Clinic to help pay for the new church roof.

At first, Clare can't understand why the news comes as such a blow to the clinic's physician. After all, the income from the Ketchem fund is such a small part of the clinic's operating budget. But when the irate physician disappears, Clare has to consider the possibility of foul play…especially after a bloody confrontation with a patient's mother suggests he may not have taken a long-overdue vacation -- or made good on his long-standing threats to leave the clinic entirely. Used to listening carefully to people in times of stress, Clare begins to put together the pieces of this complicated puzzle; and as she does, she comes to realize that the key to recent events may lie in the long-unsolved mystery of Lacey's father's disappearance more than 70 years ago.

Julia Spencer-Fleming paints a complex picture of the charming community of Millers Kill at two very different points in time -- during the Great Depression and today -- and interweaves a mystery that ties long-hidden events with current deadly secrets. Sue Stone
Marilyn Stasio
Spencer-Fleming writes with grace and clarity about the environmental ideal of turning tracts of developed land back to their natural wilderness state. But she shows even more sensitivity in depicting the human cost when those complicated root systems that connect people to their communities are yanked out from under them.
— The New York Times
The New York Times
The rich heritage of this Adirondack Mountain region also gives depth and complexity to the crimes that the well-matched pair must solve together. Here, the disappearance of the doctor who manages the local clinic dovetails with a family tragedy that dates back to the Depression era but was never put to rest. So, yes, this is a very small town, but under Spencer-Fleming's grave and tender touch it becomes a world that you want to visit and hate to leave. — Marilyn Stasio
Publishers Weekly
Set during a single day, Agatha-winner Spencer-Fleming's explosive fourth mystery (after 2004's Out of the Deep I Cry) takes Rev. Clare Fergusson and Millers Kill, N.Y., police chief Russ Van Alstyne far from the tranquility offered by the Anglican services of morning prayer, Order for Noonday and Evensong. A phone call at 5:15 on a cold November morning leads Clare-ex-army helicopter pilot and rector of St. Alban's Episcopal Church-to join the local search and rescue team to look for the missing sister of recluse Eugene van der Hoeven, head of the 250,000-acre Haudenosaunee estate. On a day when she should be at St. Alban's preparing for the bishop's annual visit, Clare finds herself involved with Russ in an investigation involving brutal beatings, kidnapping and murder. As the day unfolds, Clare and Russ are compelled to examine their own relationship when the diocesan deacon arrives early to discuss a "serious matter" with Clare. Given her seminary training and her army background, it's not surprising that Clare deals with all that comes her way with energy, expertise, sensitivity and humor. Spencer-Fleming has brought alive the people and environs of Millers Kill in another riveting mystery. Agent, Jimmy Vines. (July 7) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Global Woods Products is set to purchase thousands of Adirondack timberland, but some residents of nearby Millers Kill, NY, are less than happy about the sale. Arrogance, greed, and, at times, stupidity combine with kidnapping, assault, and murder to achieve an engrossing, well-written thriller that spans a single day. Clare Fergusson, Episcopal priest, and Russ Van Alstyne, police chief, team up again as a search and rescue becomes a murder investigation. Their ambiguously platonic relationship and mutual attraction are still evident as they work their way through the tangle of events. Less time is given to the interplay between these two characters, which may disappoint some series fans. But overall the riveting plot melds with solid characterization and a fine reading by Suzanne Toren. At times credulity may be stretched a bit as events are connected, yet the solid plot creates an entertaining thriller. Recommended.-Denise A. Garofalo, Astor Home for Children, Rhinebeck, NY Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Quite a departure for Episcopalian priest Clare Ferguson and the man who loves her, police chief Russ Van Alstyne (Out of the Deep I Cry, 2004, etc.): a Rube Goldberg plot that crams all manner of secrets and crimes into the most hectic 21 hours in Millers Kill's history. Foreign-based behemoth Global Wood Products has arranged with the Adirondack Conservancy Corporation to purchase Haudenosaunee, the van der Hoeven's family's spread inside the Adirondack State Forest, and turn most of it over to the Conservancy's care while retaining an option to repurchase tracts it wants to log. GWP gets a tax break and ACC the chance to return much of the land to its natural state, but local logger Ed Castle and paper manufacturer Shaun Reid are headed for extinction. This explosive situation is touched off by the disappearance of Millicent van der Hoeven, who's visiting her reclusive brother Eugene to sign the transfer documents. But Millie's kidnapping is only the beginning of a fantastically intricate plot. Before midnight, there'll be a murderous assault, three accidental deaths, two accidental rescues, half a dozen impromptu criminal schemes and acts of heroism by intersecting citizens who had no idea what they were in for when the sun rose, and a long-awaited meeting between Clare and Linda Van Alstyne, Russ's wife. The results show that God has both endless compassion for mortal screw-ups-and a terrific sense of humor. Author tour

Product Details

St. Martin's Press
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Fergusson/Van Alstyne Mysteries , #4
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Chapter One
Morning Prayer

When the wicked man turneth away from his wickedness that he hath committed, and doeth that which is lawful and right, he shall save his soul alive.

Ezek. 18:27

Saturday, November 14, 5:00 a.m.

Cold. The cold awoke her, creeping underneath her blanket, spreading like an ache along her hip. She tried to move, to burrow into some warm space, but the cold was beneath her, and then there was a hard, hot twinge of pain in her shoulders and she had a panicky moment of Where? What? She tried again. She couldn’t move her arms. They were pinned behind her back, her wrists fastened by something sticky and implacable.

Scream. Her cheeks and lips didn’t move. Her eyelids felt glued together, but she blinked and blinked until the sting of cold air brought tears to her eyes. Open, closed, the darkness was the same. The darkness, and the cold.

Her brain didn’t want to make sense of anything she was feeling. Was she drunk? Was this some sort of game? What had she done? She couldn’t remember. She remembered dinner. She had chickpea stew. Homemade bread. Red wine. She could picture the table, laid with her mother’s best china. She could remember looking down the long table to where her father’s picture hung on the wall, thinking, I know he’d approve. I know he would. But then what? Nothing. A blankness more frightening than the cold blackness around her. Because it was inside her. A hole in her mind.

She suddenly remembered a trip to Italy they had taken. She had been ten or eleven then. It was the summer after Gene’s mother had died, the only summer they didn’t come up to the camp. Daddy had hired a driver to take them on the drive through the mountains to Lake Como, but the morning they were to leave Pisa, he had canceled. An American had been kidnapped. She had been whiny, bored with the university town, eager for the water-skiing and boat rides she had been promised. Daddy pulled up a chair and explained they couldn’t risk it. That they would make very good targets. That was the word he used, targets. Because we’re American? She had asked. Because we’re rich, he had answered. It was the first time, the only time he had ever said that. Because we’re rich.

Kidnapped. Oh, God. She squeezed her eyes shut against a spill of hot tears and wished, for the thousandth time, that her father was still alive. To make everything all right.

5:15 a.m.

Ring. Ring. The phone. She snarled, rolled onto her stomach, and pulled her pillow over her head, but the damn thing wouldn’t give up. Once. Twice. Three times. With an inarticulate curse, she reached out from under the covers and grabbed the receiver. “H’lo,” she said.

“Reverend Fergusson? Did I wake you?” She was spared coming up with an answer worthy of the question, because her caller went on. “It’s John Huggins, Millers Kill Search and Rescue. I’m calling you on official business.”

I’m so glad it’s not personal, she thought, but the only thing her mouth could manage was “Me?”

“You signed up, didn’t you?” She could hear the rustle of paper over the line. “Air force training in survival, search, and rescue? Nine years army helicopter pilot? Physically fit, has own gear?”

She shoved the pillow beneath her and propped herself up on her elbows. The only word her sleep-sodden brain latched on to was “pilot.” “You want me to fly?”

“Not hardly. We got a young woman reported missing. Went out for a walk last night, never returned. Her brother called it in this morning after he discovered her bed hadn’t been slept in.”

This morning? She squinted at the blackness outside her window. Didn’t look like morning to her. “Why me?”

“Because we’re down to the bottom of the list.” Huggins said, his voice laced with exasperation. “Two-thirds of the crew are off on loan to the Plattsburgh mountain rescue. They got an old lady wandered away from her home and a pair of hunters who haven’t reported in for three days. Can you do it or not?”

The bishop’s visit. She pushed away the last of her muzzy-headedness. Half the congregation of St. Alban’s would be at the church today, preparing for the dog-and-pony show that was the bishop’s annual visit. She should be there. But . . . the search and rescue team needed her. She did sign up. And hiking through the woods is a lot more appealing than counting napkins and polishing silver, a treacherously seductive voice inside her pointed out. “Sure, I can do it,” she said. “Where should I meet you?”

“A place called Haudenosaunee.”

“What’s that? A town?”

“Naw, it’s an old-time estate. What they call a great camp. Inside the Blue Line.”

“The Blue Line?”

“Inside the boundary of the Adirondack State Park.” Huggins sounded as if he were having second, maybe third thoughts about calling her.

She rolled out of bed. There was a pencil and a pad of paper on her nightstand. “Give me the directions,” she said. “I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

5:15 a.m.

Ed Castle was sitting in the dark. There was no reason for it, really. He had crept out of his unlit bedroom to avoid waking his wife, but with their door safely shut, he could have snapped the hall lights on. Or turned on one of the lamps in the living room when he unlocked the gun cabinet and tucked his rifle under his arm.

Maybe it was because for so many years he had been up early winter mornings, long gone before his family awoke or the sun rose. Tiptoeing past the doors that had once led to his daughters’ bedrooms, he felt a tug, like a hook from out of the past embedded in his heart, and he had wanted to open the doors once again to see them sleeping, all silky hair and boneless limbs.

In the kitchen, he had started the coffee and found his Thermos by touch and the green glow of the microwave clock. He thought maybe he’d need some light to find the box of cartridges he kept hidden behind Suzanne’s baking tins on the top shelf, but he hadn’t. Now he sat in the dark and thought about the years of his life, which were doled out, it seemed to him, winter by winter, tree by tree, marked by a chain tread and a scarred path leading into the woods. Leading to where he could not see.

The light snapped on, starting him upright in his chair. Suzanne stood in the orange and gold halo of the hanging tulip lamp, zipped into her velour robe, her graying hair every which way. “What on earth are you doing here, sitting around with no lights on?” She stepped toward him, her slippers shush-shushing over the vinyl floor. “You didn’t get a call about a fire, did you?” Ed was a member of the Millers Kill Volunteer Fire Department.

“No.” He shrugged. “I was thinking about when the girls were little. This was the only quiet time I had back then.”

“Well, you’re going to get a chance to relive those days.” She crossed to the counter and opened a cupboard to retrieve her coffee cup. “I’m watching Bonnie’s boys while she’s finishing up that big sewing job, and Becky’s coming home for the weekend.”

He grunted. She waved the pot in his direction, and he held out his mug. “She coming up here to gloat?”

“Stop that,” Suzanne said sharply. “She didn’t force you to put the business up for sale. You can’t make the Adirondack Conservancy Corporation the bad guy in all this. It was your decision.”

“I wouldn’t have had to make any decision if the ACC wasn’t going to cut off my lumbering license.” He buried his nose in his coffee cup. “I can’t believe my own daughter turned into a damn tree hugger.”

Suzanne seated herself at the table. “It’s your own fault. You used to sneak her out to your cut sites when she wasn’t big enough to tie her own shoes.”

One half of a smile crooked his cheek. “You used to carry on something fierce about that.”

“A lumbering camp is no place for a four-year-old.”

He laughed. “Remember how she would stomp around in a fit if she couldn’t come with me?”

“Uh-huh.” Suzanne looked at him pointedly over the rim of her cup. “So now she’s grown up into someone who loves the woods, is hot-tempered, always speaks her mind—and you can’t figure out where she gets it from.” She snorted. “The only thing she doesn’t favor you in is her hair.”

Ed ran his hand over his nearly bald scalp and grinned.

Suzanne rolled her white crockery mug between her hands, a gesture he had seen her make on a thousand cold mornings like this one. “What’s really bothering you?”

“Sellin’ off the business.”

“Thought so.”

“I know it makes sense. If this land trade-off goes ahead like it’s supposed to, by this time tomorrow the van der Hoeven wood lot is gonna be off-limits to lumbering. By this time next week, the crew and I’d have to head fifty miles north to the nearest open woods. A hundred extra miles a day. Six hundred a week. With fuel prices the way they are, Suze—”

“I know.”

“Not to mention the increase in the insurance premium once we start putting that many open-road miles on our trucks.”

“I know.”

“And we’ll be getting hit with more maintenance on the trucks.”

“I know.”

“I just don’t see how we can take the increased cost and survive.” He looked down at the rifle resting in his lap. It had been his dad’s, along with the timber business. For a moment, he felt cut loose in time, unsure if he was sixty or sixteen. The gun, the woods, the coffee, even. All the same in his father’s time. In his grandfather’s.

“I always hoped to keep it in the family somehow. Maybe leave it to Bonnie’s boys. They love the woods.”

She nodded. “They do. On the other hand, do you want them risking their necks sixty hours a week to bring home twenty-five thousand a year?”

He looked at her, surprised. “You never complained.”

She laughed quietly. “I was a lumberman’s daughter. I knew what I was getting into when I married you.”

He put down his coffee and took her hand. The feel of her skin under his thumb was another bright spot against time and the dark. “I called the boys on the crew yesterday. Told ’em I wasn’t going out this winter. It’s a hell of a thing to do, to tell a man he ain’t got the job he’s been counting on. But if I sell out now to one of the larger companies, I can get a good price for the equipment. Not great, not with fuel prices high and interest rates low, but decent. Good enough so’s we could get a place in Florida. Become snowbirds. Would you like that?”

He watched her roll the thought around in her mouth, tasting it. “It’d be nice,” she finally said. “Wearing short sleeves all the time. Gardening year-round.”

“No more dark mornings,” he said.

She smiled a bit at that. “I’d miss seeing Bonnie and the boys, though. And it would be odd having Christmas where it’s sunny and warm.” She looked at him more closely. “What are you going to do? I can’t imagine you not timbering.”

He glanced down at the old rifle in his lap. That was the question, wasn’t it? “Man and boy, I’ve hauled wood out of those mountains forty years now. I don’t know what I’ll do if I’m not a lumberman. But change is coming, Suze.” He rubbed his thumb over her hand again. “And if we don’t change with it, we’ll get left behind.”

Copyright © 2005 by Julia Spencer-Fleming

The quotes at the beginning of each section are from The Book of Common Prayer, 1979 ed., published by the Church Publishing Company.

Meet the Author

Julia Spencer-Fleming was born at Plattsburgh Air Force Base and spent most of her childhood on the move as an army brat. She studied acting and history at Ithaca College and received her J.D. from the University of Maine School of Law. She lives in a 185-year-old farmhouse outside of Portland, Maine, with three children, two dogs, and one husband.

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING is an Agatha, Anthony, Barry, Dilys, Gumshoe and Macavity Award winner. Her books have been shortlisted for the Edgar, and Romantic Times RC awards. Julia lives in southern Maine with her husband and three children.

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To Darkness and to Death (Clare Fergusson Series #4) 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 40 reviews.
gloriafeit More than 1 year ago
The fourth book in the Clare Fergusson Russ Van Alstyne series describes a very eventful day in the Adirondack Mountain town of Millers Kill, New York. That may be a gross understatement. As one character states: “A murder, a missing person, and an assault case all in one day? It’s like one of those signs of the Apocalpyse.” As the book, and the day, begins, the only event of major import is that it is Police Chief Van Alstyne’s 50th birthday. He is doing some serious soul-searching, as he and Reverend Clare Fergusson are coming to terms with their strong mutual attraction, and Russ has to make a decision on whether to tell his wife about his love for another woman. But that is pushed to the background as sinister events occur. There is a land buyout about to come to fruition, 250,000 acres of timberland involved, affecting as it will the lives and livelihoods of many of the townspeople. Tempers flare, things get horribly out of hand, and violence ensues. A more traumatic and fateful birthday for a protagonist would be hard to imagine. The concept of stewardship of the land (and the local businesses) comes into play. Generations of landowners find that their values may no longer be shared by their children and grandchildren. Russ and Clare find that they have to go beyond their primary vocations to smooth the troubled waters, and try to find out what, and who, is behind the crimes. It is hard to find a sympathetic character among these people, most of whom have known each other – or their families - all their lives. As always, the author lays out the lives and backgrounds of the Millers Kill inhabitants very thoroughly, and in interesting fashion, and as the book approaches its denouement, the suspense increases immeasurably. (Parenthetically, I loved the tip-of-the-hat to Lee Child and his protagonist, Jack Reacher.) The constantly shifting p.o.v. did make the read difficult at times, but the good writing and intriguing plot made it worthwhile, and the book is recommended.
iPodReader More than 1 year ago
It twists, it turns, it makes you laugh, it makes you sad. The relationship between Russ and Clare is on the back burner, at a low simmer and we finally get to meet Russ's wife Linda. Meanwhile urgent business keeps all three of them on their toes. Another winner in the series.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Where are the main characters? I LOVED this series until now. The lead characters I care about have only made cameo appearances as of the first 110 pages. I don't like any of the characters the author is introducing us to. Not sure if I'll finish the book. I should be at least interested in the story by now. Disappointed.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
While I have been enjoying this series, the plot and characters in this book were not even close to believable. I skimmed through a good part of the book because of this. I do intend to read other books in this series and hope that they stick more to the " who done it" style that I have enjoyed from this author.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Can anyone write a review without providing an entire synopses of the plot?????? All I want to know is if you liked it! Spare me the quick notes version people, please!!!!
Anonymous 7 months ago
I really enjoyed this book. I can't wait to read the next one in the series.
OldReader43 More than 1 year ago
I have read all of the books in this series and I think they only get better as the author expands her narrative. It is difficult to write a review of any of these books without giving too much away. But, if wrongdoing, life in a small town, the difficulty of being a clergy woman in present times, and the meanings of life and love interest you, this is a must read. It will be especially relevant to those of the Protestant faith who attend church administered by a local vestry or council. You don't have to believe in God for this book to be relevant to you but it helps if you believe in imperfect humans who are doing their best to heed what their individual consciences are telling them what is right. Ms. Fleming formats her books as crime novels but they really are much more. Not all of her plot elements are completely realistic but they are close enough to reality that you will recognize parallel story lines in your own life.
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Simply because the plot is sometimes just unbelievable and the characters don't make sense. I found myself reading and thinking, "Oh, come on."
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