Review

To Darkness and to Death

by Julia Spencer-Fleming



Julia Spencer-Fleming's mystery series set in the town of Millers
Kill, New York has already won rave reviews, awards, and legions of
fans. TO DARKNESS AND TO DEATH, its fourth installment, should
bring even more accolades to this deserving series.

Spencer-Fleming's main characters are Clare Fergusson and Russ Van
Alstyne. As the two inevitably get drawn into solving mysteries in
their small town, they also have developed an undeniable romantic
attraction. The only problem? Clare is the town's Episcopal priest
while Russ is Millers Kill's older, married police chief. The moral
complexities of the pair's attraction to each other add a
thought-provoking dimension to the series' excellent character
development and exquisite plotting.

In TO DARKNESS AND TO DEATH, both Russ and Clare's relationship,
and Spencer-Fleming's storytelling skills, are taken to the next
level. The author takes the risky move of setting the novel's
entire action in a single day, switching rapidly from character to
character as she tells her story, often revealing events only
through a series of overlapping perspectives. The result is a tale
that is rich in dramatic irony, as the reader soon becomes aware of
mistaken identities, lies, and misunderstandings that are
unapparent to the characters, who do not have the benefit of these
multiple perspectives. Despite making the reader feel all-knowing,
though, Spencer-Fleming still has some tricks up her sleeves, and
will almost certainly still manage to surprise most readers
somewhere along the way.

Like other books in the series, this latest installment touches on
environmental issues and on small-town politics. This time, a large
estate occupied by a mysterious, reclusive burn victim is about to
be sold to a large corporation and managed by the Adirondack
Conservancy Corporation. The impact on the area's hunters, not to
mention its logging companies and paper manufacturers, will be
significant. It seems that every businessperson in town has a stake
in the future of the land, and that some will go to great lengths
to protect their own interests.

Spencer-Fleming has a good understanding of small-town life, and TO
DARKNESS AND TO DEATH underscores many of her themes. All the
characters seem related in multiple ways, connections that can
provide support but also complications. Near the end of the novel,
Russ Van Alstyne reflects, "It's true… We are all related. If
not by blood, then by bonds we don't even realize. Until they're
gone." In her mysteries, Spencer-Fleming offers not only good
stories, but also reflections into the nature of human connections
and the human heart.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on January 23, 2011

To Darkness and to Death
by Julia Spencer-Fleming

  • Publication Date: May 30, 2006
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Mass Market Paperback: 370 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Paperbacks
  • ISBN-10: 0312988877
  • ISBN-13: 9780312988876