Dec. 1, 2007
Books & Authors
By Ben Beagle
There’s nothing mysterious about what makes a good mystery: it needs engaging characters and a great plot.
Add a little humor and perhaps an interesting issue to explore and you’ve got a book that readers won’t be able to put down.
Past “Tale for Three Counties” author Julia Spencer-Fleming mastered that mix in a big way for her most recent novel, All Mortal Flesh (St. Martin’s/Minotaur).
Tonight, she receives another accolade for All Mortal Flesh: the Nero Award for best mystery of 2007.
The Nero is presented by The Wolfe Pack, a collection of fans of writer Rex Stout (Nero Wolfe), to an author for literary excellence in the mystery genre. The award – in the form of a bust of fictional P.I. Nero Wolfe – honors Stout’s eternally brilliant, irascible and corpulent private detective Wolfe, a love of food, beer and orchids. Previous winners have included Lawrence Block, Lee Child, John Dunning, Michael Connelly and Tess Gerritsen.
All Mortal Flesh is the fifth novel in Spencer-Fleming’s series about the Rev. Clare Fergusson, a well-intentioned Episcopal priest with a tendency to find trouble, and Russ Van Alstyne, the married police chief of the fictional Adirondack community of Millers Kill. It has been well received by both fans and critics. All Mortal Flesh previously won a Gumshoe Award for best mystery from Mystery Ink, and was nominated for an Anthony Award from the Mystery Writers of America, a Macavity Award from Mystery Readers International, and a coveted Agatha Award – named for famed mystery writer Agatha Christie.
The novel also made several year-end best-of lists. Among them, Publishers Weekly Top 100 Books of 2006 and Library Journal’s Top 25 “Best Genre Fiction of 2006.”
It’s been a year to-die for for the Maine writer.
“Really, it’s something to give readers what they want, and there had been a clear groundswell for Russ’ wife to die,” said Spencer-Fleming, whose debut novel, In the Bleak Midwinter, was the featured title for the 2005 “A Tale for Three Counties”community reading project in Genesee, Orleans and Wyoming counties.
“This story represented a significant step forward in the relationship” between Clare and Russ, she said in a telephone interview this week. “Usually the mystery is happening to other people and bad things are happening to other people. This time, the protagonists were interacting with those bad things. There was a lot more at stake for Clare and Russ.”
An investigation into the apparent murder of Mrs. Van Alstyne powers both personal and procedural plots in All Mortal Flesh.
“A lot of mysteries are plot driven, but the thing that makes her mysteries are the great characterization along with a good plot. Her books also have a lot of humor and interesting issues. It all come out in the last book,” said Leslie DeLooze, the librarian at Richmond Memorial Library who started the “Tale” program.
Meanwhile, Spencer-Fleming’s next book, I Shall Not Want, is scheduled for release May 2008. This time, the author says, as Russ and Clare attempt to “get past the gulf of grief that separates them,” the Millers Kill police force investigates the murders of several Hispanic immigrants.
I Shall Not Want will be a lead title for Minotaur, which means the publisher will be putting a lot of promotional efforts into the release. Among ideas being developed is an online component that could include short stories, vignettes and a look at content edited out of the books.
Courtesy of Batavia Newspapers Corporation