The latest Tale for Three Counties

By Tom Rivers, Daily News Staff Writer

The latest Tale for Three Counties isn’t a joy ride. It’s a grim story involving an abandoned baby, class warfare and murder.

I took a break from the book halfway through. I needed a pick-me-up. I turned to the latest John Grisham thriller, The Broker. That was pleasant compared to the deceit and darkness of In The Bleak Midwinter by Julia Spencer-Fleming.

Although it’s a dark book, Midwinter is a worthwhile read, especially for residents in a rural community.

The book gives a real look at crime and its far-ranging effects in a small town. You see it through the eyes of the police chief and a new Episcopal priest in town.

I’ve gained a new respect for the burdens that our police leaders and ministers carry, especially in a small town. There aren’t huge staffs to shield the police chiefs, the sheriffs, and the pastors from so many of the nitty-gritty details.

Often they see the death and grief up close in a personal way. Then they are expected to handle all of their administrative duties and carry on with the pressure of leading a department or a church.

It can be an emotional grinder with little support in place for the police and church leaders. They are somehow expected to be immune from their emotions. That’s not possible, especially when their jobs demand so much feeling and involvement for others who are hurting.

That differs from my job. If I write about a gruesome crime or a tragedy, it often only dominates my thoughts for a few hours. Then I’m on to the next story.

But police officers and ministers are submerged in those difficult soul-crushing details for months or longer.

I spoke with Mike Grattan about two years ago, soon after he was released from prison on drug charges. Grattan was Holley’s police chief for about six years.

He also was a drug user. It was his way of coping with the stresses of the job. Not the administrative stuff, the balancing of budgets, the trimming of overtime. That he could handle.

But Grattan said being a police chief in a small town is difficult — if you care about the people.

He saw the domestic violence disputes, the drunk drivers, the out-of-control tempers. He investigated fatal accidents of people he knew in town.

He tried to buddy up with a kid struggling to find his way. But Grattan was one of the first on scene when the boy shot himself to death.

Grattan also was at a crime scene of another woman shot to death by a boyfriend.

Seeing all that, feeling all that, takes a toll on a person, especially a caring guy like Grattan. He told me two years ago the trauma on the job wasn’t an excuse to placate himself with drugs.

He didn’t have another support system. Holley, similar to the department described In The Bleak Midwinter, didn’t have a big team of administrators, detectives and investigators.

In the book there is a police chief and seven officers. The officers could turn to each other and the chief to share their emotional burdens. But the chief had nowhere to share his grief. He felt he had to be the strong leader.

Likewise, the new priest in town had to carry so many burdens for people in her congregation and community.

The police chief and priest found an outlet in each other to share their human hurts and worries. They became unlikely buddies. The chief wasn’t religious.

But both needed a safe place, a good friend to confide in, someone to “dump” their pains and fears.

After surviving a standoff, the police chief in the book was drenched in sweat from his fear. But none of his officers acknowledged his trauma. They expected him to be a robotic warrior. The uniform and badge masked his humanity.

The chief found a sympathetic ear with his new best friend, the priest.

When the priest was counseling a woman who lost her sister to murder, the priest was reminded of her own sister who died of cancer. She needed a shoulder to cry on. The chief was there, without passing any judgment on the priest.

In The Bleak Midwinter, with all of its grisly details, also is a story of friendship, and how important friends are for our strongest leaders — our police chiefs and ministers. That alone makes it worth the read.

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Courtesy of Batavia Newspapers Corporation

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