Sunday, April 10, 2011

One Was a Soldier by Julia Spencer-Fleming

We waited three years for Julia Spencer-Fleming to bring back Clare Fergusson and Russ Van Alstyne. She left us hanging when she sent Clare to Iraq in I Shall Not Want. But, Fleming brought Clare and Russ roaring back to life in the unforgettable One Was a Soldier. It was worth the wait.

Sheriff Russ Van Alstyne waited for Clare to return to Millers Kill, New York. But, his planned romantic homecoming for her is broken up when he has to respond to a disturbance at a local bar. It's only the first time he and Clare will encounter the three people involved in the fight, Specialist Tally McNabb, her husband, Wyler, and Chief Warrant Officer Quentan Nichols. Tally will turn up in the veterans' group that Clare attends for counseling. And, all three of them will turn up in one of Russ' investigations.

Russ is eager to get back to life with Clare, hoping to marry her. But, she returned from Iraq, scarred with memories, dependent on pills and alcohol, hiding that from him. It isn't as easy to hide problems from the other veterans and the therapist, but she uses her role as an Episcopalian priest as a good shield for the truth. She can see the young Marine who hasn't let out his anger at losing his legs. She knows a returned veteran has anger issues. But, how can she, a leader and a priest, also have problems? Knowing all that they know about each other, when one of their own is a suspected suicide, Clare's veteran group can't accept that. They refuse to accept Russ' decision, and start their own investigation into a murder. Neither Russ nor Clare know how far that investigation will go.

One Was a Soldier could have been a dark mystery, dealing with veterans' issues and mystery. But, Julia Spencer-Fleming doesn't forget to alleviate the tension with humor. Russ Van Alstyne is a cop who understands that sometimes humor gets you through those dark situations. And, there's a great scene when the therapist for the veterans' group realizes they're intent on investigating the death of one of their own. Sarah addresses Clare. "You are not Daphne from Scooby-Doo. We are not going to get into a purple van and ride around town looking for a spooky old house." Then, when she realizes they're all committed, asked what she's going to do, she says, "I guess I'm going to put on an orange turtleneck and drive the van." Perfect sly humor for this story.

There's a complicated plot and mystery in One Was a Soldier, but, as always with Spencer-Fleming, her characters are the heart of the story. The Clare and Russ storyline has always drawn readers back, but there are other characters with a great deal of depth. The returning veterans have come home with issues civilians don't think about; nightmares, addictions, loss of limbs. Spencer-Fleming shows the depth of the problems, and the issues people don't want to face. We'd rather welcome them home, and then go on with life. The other members of the police force also have complex lives that add to the story's richness. Spencer-Fleming brought police officers back from war, officers who have matured, and changed. The rest of the force has to adjust to those changes.

We've waited a long time for a new Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne mystery. One Was a Soldier welcomes Clare Fergusson back from Iraq, and Julia Spencer-Fleming back to the mystery world. The mystery world is better off with all of them here.

Julia Spencer-Fleming's website is

One Was a Soldier by Julia Spencer-Fleming.  St. Martin's Minotaur. ©2011. ISBN 9780312334895 (hardcover), 336p.

FTC Full Disclosure - The publisher sent me an advanced readers' copy, hoping I would review it.


Anonymous said...

I'm so excited about reading this book in one of my favorite series. Sounds wonderful.

Lesa said...

It is wonderful, Kay. I hope you enjoy it!

Julia Spencer-Fleming said...

Thank you, Lesa! What a thoughtful, well-written review. I'm delighted you enjoyed the book.

Beth Hoffman said...

I loved your review, Lesa! So much so that I will add this series to my (ever-growing) list.

I hope you and the kitties have a lovely Sunday! I think of you so often and wish we lived closer.

Lesa said...

I did enjoy it, Julia. And, I didn't want to give too much away. Loved the book. Thank you.

Lesa said...

Ah, Beth. The kitties. I've got them crawling all over while I'm trying to use the computer. Dickens is laying at my feet, but Stormy and Josh have been trying to climb into my lap, where the computer is.

I can imagine your TBR pile!

I wish we lived closer, too. Hugs, Beth.

Ingrid King said...

Thank you for this great review, Lesa! I can't wait to read this.

Lesa said...

If you've read the earlier ones, Ingrid, you're going to love this one.

Book Dilettante said...

My first in the series, I read this one for Library Thing. It is chock full of detail and information, though I sometimes like mysteries with plots that are more streamlined.

Lesa said...

I understand, Book Dilettante. I would have found that book a tough one to start with since for those of us who followed the series, it was a culmination of a number of years.

Art said...

Dear Lesa,
I was lucky enough to have won an ARC of this book from you, and I finished reading it just two days ago. It certainly is as good or better than the earlier books in the series, but the overlay of the problems faced by returning "wounded warriors" makes it a particularly poignant read. The author's compassion for what Clare and her comrades are suffering seems very genuine to me. I'm planning to pass the book along to the rector of my (Episcopal) church. I think she'll be able to relate to much of it.

Joyce Delaney said...

Dear Lesa,
Sorry 'bout that. I forgot to sign out of my husband's Google account.
Joyce Delaney

Lesa said...

That's OK, Joyce. I agree with you. The feeling for the veterans did come through in this book. Like you, I waited to read this. Release day is Tuesday, and I didn't want to be too far ahead of release date with the review. You're right. It is as good, or better.

Bev Stephans said...

Dear Lesa,

I have waited so long for this book, but all of the reviews I have read (including yours) give it high marks. B & N will send it out on Tuesday and I will be stalking the mailman until it arrives.

@Beth Hoffman

You really have to read this series Beth. Please start at the first book to get the full enjoyment of the series.

Janet Rudolph said...

I loved One Was a Soldier. Welcome back, indeed. Great review!

Lesa said...

And, I've had my ARC in the closet for 3-4 months, Bev, but I've always been good at waiting for something I know I'll enjoy.

You're right - Beth should start at the beginning.

Lesa said...

Thank you, Janet. That means a lot, coming from you. Thanks.