The previous entry in Julia Spencer-Fleming's mystery series featuring Chief of Police Russ Van Alstyne and Reverend Clare Fergusson took readers in a somewhat different direction, as it explored Clare's difficulties readjusting to civilian life after spending time in military conflict overseas. Her subsequent substance abuse put a strain on her relationship with Russ and on her career, both of which seemed likely to experience further pressure in the wake of the surprising news (revealed at the novel's end) that Clare is unexpectedly pregnant.
In THROUGH THE EVIL DAYS, the eighth installment in the series, readers continue to follow the fallout of both these developments. Russ, who is significantly older than Clare, has no desire to become a father and doesn't mind telling his young wife so. Meanwhile, Clare is in danger of being chastised --- or worse --- by her bishop for becoming pregnant months before her recent marriage to Russ. She'll find out her fate in one week's time. One week is also how long Russ has before he learns about the future of the Millers Kill police department, which the town council is considering replacing with state police coverage as a budget-saving measure.
"Spencer-Fleming effectively uses these various one-week deadlines to raise the stakes for her story and to increase the suspense as time quickly begins to run out on everyone."
But both these seven-day deadlines (as well as a personal one affecting Officer Hadley Knox) pale in comparison with a week’s deadline for a little girl's life. Mikayla has been kidnapped from her foster parents' home; her recent liver transplant means that she can only go a few days without her immunosuppressant drugs before her body starts to reject the liver and she dies.
Before anyone realizes the complexity and breadth of Mikayla's disappearance, Russ remains determined to finally take a honeymoon with his new wife at a remote cabin north of Millers Kill. Before too long, though, Russ and Clare find themselves in the midst of the worst ice storm in living memory --- and in the middle of a crime ring that is far more wide-reaching and dangerous than anyone could have anticipated.
Spencer-Fleming effectively uses these various one-week deadlines to raise the stakes for her story and to increase the suspense as time quickly begins to run out on everyone. The main mystery plot has numerous twists and turns to keep readers on their toes, and she continues to enrich her series with plenty of character development as well. Russ and Clare's impending baby, as well as the ongoing repercussions of Clare's substance abuse, add new sources of conflict to their otherwise rock-solid relationship. And, as in the previous volume, Spencer-Fleming continues to provide sexual and romantic tension by expanding focus on young officers Hadley Knox and Kevin Flynn, whose developing relationship forms much of the novel's emotional pull.
THROUGH THE EVIL DAYS ends with another cliffhanger, guaranteeing that readers will continue to feel suspense even after its final pages.
Reviewed by Norah Piehl on November 8, 2013