No mystery about this gathering

By Todd Fielding, Daily News Correspondent

BATAVIA — The morning’s chill outside gave way to a roaring fireplace for the group gathering in the library’s reading room to discuss Julia Spencer-Fleming’s book, In the Bleak Midwinter.
At one point, the fire was so warm the group moved its circle of chairs back from the fireplace — an minor inconvience compared to the troubles the book’s main character had lighting the fireplace in her office.

Leslie DeLooze, reference and community services librarian at Richmond Memorial Library, used the fire to help create an atmosphere for Wednesday’s book discussion, part of the “A Tale for Three Counties” community reading project.

The early hour — it started at 7:45 a.m. — didn’t deter participants.

“At this point of my life, you get up that early,” said Dave Stevens of Le Roy, the only man among 20 women who gathered in Richmond’s Reading Room to talk about the mystery set in a fictional Adirondack town.

Stevens, a retiree from Kraft Foods in Avon, said he enjoys book discussions — even if they sometimes make him feel like he needs to prepare for a class.

Public libraries in Genesee, Orleans, and Wyoming counties, along with Genesee Community College are taking part in the “Tale” reading project. Book discussions are scheduled in the three counties through March 8. Spencer-Fleming will visit March 10 to 12 for four talks and booksignings.

In the Bleak Midwinter is centered around Clare Fergusson, the new priest at St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in Millers Kill, who stumbles upon a newborn baby abandoned on the church steps. As Fergusson seeks to find out what happened, she discovers murders, secrets of a small town, and her own relationship with the married police chief.

DeLooze, who has led the “Tale” project each of its three years, said Spencer-Fleming’s book was chosen because is set in New York, is an award-winning book and that the book had a lot of plot elements to discuss.

“People enjoy sharing their ideas of the books,” DeLooze said. “That is a motivation.”

DeLooze prepared several questions — such as whether the story would work in a different setting — to fire up the session. But as often happens, once the talking begins the discussion becomes more freeflowing depending on the interests and questions of the readers.

“It’s great to discuss books with other people,” said Nancy Mortellaro of Batavia. “It’s good to hear others insight into the book.”

Mortellaro said the book’s snowy setting was a good idea for this story, though she didn’t think it would have worked were the situation different.

Group members debated subjects ranging from the use of winter elements — “It is almost a character,” DeLooze said — to the main character’s propensity toward getting into situations over her head. (Clare’s attempt to start a fire in her office fireplace fills the room with heavy smoke.)

“I like the way that people look at books, look at characters,” said Dorothy Coughlin, a reference librarian at Richmond who also participates in the monthly group. “This is a nice group. The group that comes has a world of different experiences.”

Coughlin liked all three of Spencer-Fleming’s books in the Clare Fergusson mystery series.

“I liked the development of the characters,” said Coughlin, a former librarian at GCC and Elba Central School. “With a mystery, the psychology motives you to learn.”

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Courtesy of Batavia Newspapers Corporation

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