Book Reviews

Book Review: A Fountain Filled With Blood By Julia Spencer-Fleming – Hate Crimes in a Small Town

This is the second novel in Julia Spencer-Fleming’s series about Army helicopter pilot turned Episcopal priest, Clare Fergusson and local Police Chief Russ Van Dyne. They became good friends in the first book, In The Bleak Midwinter, and seem to be fighting off anything more than that. Russ is happily married, although his wife, Linda, is never seen.

In A Fountain Filled With Blood, the two are almost on opposite sides. Clare is the one arguing for the humanist angle while Russ wants to solve the crime. In this case, two gay men in town are singled out to be beaten up, landing both of them in the hospital. Russ doesn’t have a problem with the men; one of them is his coroner. The problem comes when Clare immediately pegs it as a hate crime and wants to put out a warning while Russ is holding back. Clare is involved due to the fact that the second man is the sibling of a bride in a wedding she was about to perform and is counseling the family.

A developer with designs on creating a great Adirondack resort and spa on what was once a superfund site is the third gay man found murdered. Clare finds the body and is angry at Russ, feeling that a warning about possible hate crimes could have prevented the murder. However, there are many suspects when it comes to who could want this man dead. There are local environmentalists (headed by Russ’ mother) who believe stirring up the ground at the site caused the PCB count in the local water supply to increase. There are people he was partnered with, who stand to lose a fortune if he pulled out of the deal.

This is a character-driven book, although there is also plenty of action and intrigue. The most obvious, of course, is the tension between Russ and Clare. After the events of the previous book, they have been dutifully avoiding each other. It was only at the very end of In The Bleak Midwinter that Russ learned Episcopal priests don’t have to be celibate. Before that, he had thrown caution to the wind thinking that would curb any feelings they had for each other. Now it seems like every time they meet there’s tension in the air, and people are taking notice. Russ’ wife Linda is like Maris Crane from Frasier: people talk about her a lot but she’s never seen. At one point Clare thinks she will finally meet her, but the “Mrs. Van Dyne” turns out to be Russ’ mother.

We meet more people in the upstate New York town of Millers Kill. It’s summer, and Clare laments the low attendance at church while also trying to keep up with various meetings, and especially the pre-wedding counseling. She’s treading a line between being an inviting church and being used by prospective brides and grooms due to how attractive the property is. The author really has a good feel for the modern church at a crossroads between the old way of thinking and a more modern one.

The mystery is good as things are not always what they seem. I guessed part of it early on, but figuring out just who the killer or killers were took until nearly the end of the book. There were a few moments that required a high suspension of disbelief. I mean, I can understand that Clare was once an Army pilot, and at the same time feel her decision to commandeer a helicopter to get an injured man to the hospital fast probably isn’t a good idea. That’s part of who Clare is, though. She seems to lead with her heart above all else, and it often leads to an unwise course of action. I have to wonder what life was like for her in the Army with that outlook.

Overall, though, I enjoyed A Fountain Filled With Blood much more than I did the first book. Perhaps it’s the subject matter, which didn’t hit home quite as much as the first book. I’m not sure yet where the author is going with Clare and Russ, but I think it will be interesting to see.

Previous book in the series:

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