Latest Miller’s Kill mystery is solved

April 17, 2010,
By Ben Beagle

There’s good news, not as good news, and possibly great news for fans of Julia Spencer-Fleming, a previous featured author in the “A Tale for Three Counties” community reading project.

The release date of the next book in her mystery series featuring the Rev. Clare Fergusson and Miller’s Kill police chief Russ Van Alstyne has changed several times, but is coming out a lot sooner than 2012.

That’s the good news.

The less good news: readers still have to wait until April 2011.

“One Was a Soldier” had been slated for release this month, then was pushed back to February 2012.

“The manuscript was so late, I missed my production slot — the date my publisher had reserved for the book to be sold-in, printed, bound, etc.,” Spencer-Fleming wrote last month in a note to readers.

And while the publisher could have rushed through the process, Spencer-Fleming said, “the folks at Minotaur don’t want my series to suffer. They want to do it right — and so do I.”

“I promise you, it will be worth the wait.”

“One Was a Soldier” begins with Clare’s return to Miller’s Kill after completing her tour with the National Guard as a helicopter pilot in Iraq. She and four other veterans — Dr. George Stillman, who is suffering from his own injuries, Officer Eric McCrea, dealing with an increasing sense of rage, Will Ellis, a Marine who lost both legs in combat, and Tally McNabb, who brings a secret back. The group hopes the counseling session will enable them to go back to their old lives. But when McNabb is found dead in a case rules a suicide, Clare – who returned with a had full of bad memories and has turned to alcohol to white them out – clashes with Chief Van Alstyne.

There’s even better news for fans who had expected “One Was a Soldier” to be the final book in the series. Spencer-Fleming said she is already at work on an eighth book in the series “and I’m determined to finish this one in less than a year!”

“As I was writing, and writing and writing ‘One Was a Soldier’ I kept digging up these story lines I wanted to explore further,” Spencer-Fleming said. “So my choice was to have a 700-page book, or split it up into two novels.”

In the meantime, Spencer-Fleming hopes to send some character sketches, vignettes or short stories to members on her mailing list.

Spencer-Fleming began the series in 2002 with “In the Bleak Midwinter,” which introduced readers’ to Fergusson, a former Army helicopter pilot who has become an Episcopal priest. She meets Van Alstyne after discovering a newborn baby left at the church and the murder of the child’s 18-year-old mother.

Clare and Russ’ personal and professional relationships have developed through five additional books.

In 2003, “In the Bleak Midwinter” was featured as the selection for the “A Tale for Three Counties” community reading project in Genesee, Orleans and Wyoming counties.

Another Tale author, Mark Spragg (2007), was recently included in an Entertainment Weekly review of three books with “bone” in the title. Spragg’s “Bone Fire,” released last month, came out on top with the best of the reviews. He received a B+.
“The story is as slow and shambling as a run-down pickup, but that allows the fine-tuned characters wide-open space to breathe and their grief to become palpable,” wrote Keith Staskiewicz.

The other books reviewed were “The Bone Thief” by Jefferson Bass, which received a B, and “Bone Dogs” by Roger Alan Skipper, which was given a B-.

“Bone Fire,” which deals with difficult life in the modern West, includes Einar Gilkyson and his granddaughter Griff, characters from Spragg’s “An Unfinished Life,” which was the 2007 Tale for Three Counties selection.

The genesis of Spragg’s forthcoming novel began with recurring daydreams of a calm, very satisfied Einar Gilkyson tending to a huge fire of bones and antlers. The story is set many years after “An Unfinished Life.”

Spragg acknowledges in an interview from his publisher, Knopf, that he didn’t intend to write another novel set in Ishawooa, but found his own curiousity about the people got the better of him.

“There was primarily the image of Einar at the fire, but then I became obsessed with Griff … wondering about what she might be like as a young woman, and then Paul, the little boy from “The Fruit of the Stone,” wondering about the young man he had become,” Spragg said. “I was surprised every step of the way that I had so many unanswered questions about the characters from these previous two novels, and that their lives had become so linked together in my imagination.”

“Bone Fire” was named on several lists of most-anticipated books for 2010. Spragg’s book was released in March.

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Courtesy of Batavia Newspapers Corporation

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