I have come to the most recent “end” of Spencer-Fleming’s Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne series with a sigh of satisfaction and anticipation for the next book, underway but by no means on the pubbed radar. One reason I love this series is Spencer-Fleming’s ability to deliver the familiar with something fresh, new, and surprising. In Hid From Our Eyes, she continues Clare and Russ’s great love and now adorable parenthood, offers ample glimpses into the ensemble cast who surround them, but also introduces new characters, fleshes out beloved, well-known ones, advances, but barely, to my great chagrin, a secondary romance, and depicts three murders occurring in different time periods, 1952, 1972, and present-day. She links them by the murders’ similarity: a dead young woman is found on a Millers Kill roadway, the autopsy failing to establish cause of death, and three police chiefs, Harry Neil (1952), Jack Liddle (1972), and Russ Van Alstyne (present-day), committed, intelligent, ethical, try to find the murderers. (Spencer-Fleming lobs a gasp-worthy revelation when one of Jack’s 1972 suspects is a newly returned military vet, angry, wild, and oh-so-sad, barely out-of-his-teens Russ!)
After the intensely personal, character-driven last two series volumes, One Was A Soldier and Through the Evil Days, Spencer-Fleming somewhat returns to procedural narrative. The three murders, spanning over sixty years, have a Twin-Peak-ish quality that sang to my forever-90s-television heart. And the chiefs of police, mentor-figures to the one who follows, are steady, ethical, detecting figures amidst the different historical worlds they inhabit: police methods, attitudes towards women, and the wars that haunt their past and were formative for them, WWII, Vietnam, the Gulf War (Iraq and Afghanistan belong to Clare). But the determination to bring justice remains the same and drives Harry as much as Jack and our beloved Russ. One of the novel’s delights is the re-appearance of the now-retired Jack Liddle, joining the ensemble cast as Russ’s detecting sidekick and possible love-interest (he’s carried a torch for years) for Margy, Russ’s geriatric pixie activist mom. Add Spencer-Fleming’s knife-twist of a plot addition, the possible dissolution of the Millers Killers police department and reader-agony reaches peak intensity.
Despite multiple narratives, three murders, and a campaign to Save Our Police, led by Margy and cheered and aided by Clare, we still get delicious glimpses into the characters’ lives, albeit not as intensely as the two previous books. (Which were also super-hot. Whodathunkit Spencer-Fleming, so circumspect, could write such hot love scenes? Sadly, this is a strictly-closed-bedroom-door-don’t-even-mention-the-bedroom-door narrative.) We watch Clare navigate new motherhood amidst a demanding career and continue to struggle with addictions. We watch Russ become an adoring, proud father, one who can wield a baby-spoon. Baby Ethan James Van Alstyne, chubby, temperamental, and energetic, makes every scene better with his antics. Hadley and now-long-gone younger lover, Kevin Flynn too are less together on scene and yet, even with a few appearances, I wanted to see them be together, work things out … argh. Spencer-Fleming satisfies by not satisfying.
The novel leaves us with questions, worries for Clare and Russ and their friends, family, and colleagues, and one great BIG OLE cliffhanger, which, I hope, will be explored/resolved in the next book. What Spencer-Fleming’s series never fails to offer, steadily, in each and every volume, are her characters’ decency, humour, care, and love for others. Russ and Clare are at the core of this community, happily married, still deeply, but now more quietly, in love. There are dark clouds on the horizon, but our belief in their firm “lastingness” holds us steady till the next book, long may they reign. Another wonderful addition to one of my favourite series, Spencer-Fleming’s Hid From Our Eyes emerges from “a mind lively and at ease,” Emma.
Julia Spencer-Fleming’s Hid From Our Eyes is published by Minotaur Books. It was released in April and may be found at your preferred vendors. (If you haven’t read the series, I recommend you start with the first book, In the Bleak Midwinter, and work your way through.) I received an e-ARC from Minotaur Books, via Netgalley.