As I promised on Tuesday’s blog about award-winning mystery novelist, Julia Spencer-Fleming, http://lindarodriguezwrites.blogspot.com/2013/10/literary-mystery-novelistsjulia-spencer.html, today I’m reviewing Spencer-Fleming’s newest novel, Through the Evil Days (St. Martin’s Press/Minotaur Books). And I must confess, I approached this with trepidation. Spencer-Fleming is one of my favorite writers, and her last book, One Was a Soldier, was an absolute tour de force. If you haven’t read it, run, don’t walk, to your nearest bookstore or online marketplace or library and grab it. This was Spencer-Fleming’s most ambitious book in a series of ambitious novels, and it was superbly executed. I frequently recommend it to others as the best book, fiction or nonfiction, that I’ve seen on the situation of the soldiers who are sent back again and again to Iraq and Afghanistan, the damage with which they return, the harm the corrupt private corporations involved in these wars do to those soldiers, and the way in which we as a country let them down when they return home with physical, mental, and emotional wounds.
Consequently, I was as nervous about reading Through the Evil Days as I was eager for it. Would it be a letdown after the great achievement of One Was a Soldier? How could she continue after a triumph like that? Probably these same questions gnawed at Spencer-Fleming and contributed to the longer-than-usual gap between these two books. I needn’t have worried, however. Spencer-Fleming really is one of the finest writers practicing today, and it shows in her newest novel.
Through the Evil Days opens with explosive arson, a double murder, the abduction of a little girl, and a dog that has failed in his attempts to guard his home and people. That’s a lot to happen in less than two pages, and it slams the reader right into the book. From there, we move to the protagonists, Rev. Clare Fergusson and Chief Russ Van Alstine, who are dealing with Clare’s PTSD and the alcohol and drug abuse it caused, as well as her unexpected pregnancy, stressing their brand-new marriage as much as her battle-induced problems since Russ adamantly has no desire for a child. Even as they travel to the crime scene in their professional capacities, others are plotting threats to their positions as Episcopalian priest and chief of the Millers Kill police force. There is plenty of suspense to keep the reader turning the page to find out what will happen to the child and to these two likable but flawed characters.
This book offers more than suspense, however, even though the suspense is taut and the plotting is complex with unforeseen twists throughout the book. Spencer-Fleming examines the massive illegal drug trade in the United States today and the corruption that its huge amounts of money brings into our society, the problems that women still face in the workforce, the struggles facing towns and cities in this time of austerity as they try to keep providing necessary services, and the difficulties of actually helping children in the custody of parents who are negligent or abusive. She faces these issues unflinchingly and shines a dispassionate light on all of them through her characters and their actions and responses.
Spencer-Fleming has given us another book with characters who come alive on the page, nonstop suspense, and surprising plot complications, all presented in lucid, intelligent prose. Through the Evil Days is another winner and will undoubtedly be nominated for the mystery genre’s top awards.
Through the Evil Days is available for pre-order now, and Spencer-Fleming is holding a contest in which everyone who pre-orders the book will receive an autographed original manuscript page and be entered in a drawing for a 16GB KINDLE Fire HDX. See her website, http://www.juliaspencerfleming.com/, for details.