Everyone in the small town of Millers Kill, New York, is talking. Now that police chief Russ Van Alstyne's wife Linda is dead, will he and the Reverend Clare Fergusson finally be able to acknowledge the love they've always felt but never acted upon? Clare and Russ might be able legally to take their long-term friendship to the next level, but their deeply held moral beliefs --- not to mention the harsh words and cold deeds that have separated them in the past --- seem to keep their love from ever reaching fulfillment.
But Millers Kill is a small town, and even as the tongues are wagging, Russ’s and Clare's paths are bound to cross, particularly as a series of murders threatens members of one of Millers Kill's least visible --- and most vulnerable --- populations. Most residents are hardly aware of the Hispanic workers (many of them undocumented) who do the dirty work of the area's numerous dairy farms. But when a van carrying a number of these workers, and driven by an area nun who's also a friend of Clare's, is shot at, the incident draws in the Millers Kill police department and uncovers a series of crimes that leads to a new chain of violent acts.
In addition to Clare and Russ, this most recent string of murders draws in Russ's dairy farming sister and brother-in-law as well as deputy police chief Lyle Macauley (whose relationship with Russ is newly strained) and new police officer (and single mom) Hadley Knox. Hadley is barely keeping her head above water as she struggles to learn police procedures, care for her kids, negotiate the police bureaucracy and successfully discourage the advantage of eager young romantic Officer Kevin Flynn.
As Clare struggles to discern her true calling, and as Russ attempts to negotiate both his grief for his late wife and his growing feelings for Clare, events outside their control might affect their relationship in ways no one could have anticipated.
With each new installment in the story of Russ Van Alstyne and Clare Fergusson, Julia Spencer-Fleming continues to flesh out not only these compellingly complex characters but also the town of Millers Kill, introducing new secondary characters and developing familiar ones. The result is a microcosm that feels as true as real life, and a set of characters who have become both familiar and endlessly fascinating. Even though the suspense plot may be of secondary interest to some readers, Spencer-Fleming does an admirable job of creating a mystery that is gripping without being convoluted, and one that reveals, in its unfolding and its solving, the intricacies of its character and its community.
This is an exciting, surprising, often funny and passionate mystery novel that showcases a writer at the top of her form. Readers will walk away from I SHALL NOT WANT both deeply satisfied with the new directions taken by these beloved main characters and apprehensive of the changes the future might bring for Russ and Clare. But no matter what, they will want more.
Reviewed by Norah Piehl on January 22, 2011