Desert Isle Keeper
One Was a Soldier
When I got assigned to read One Was a Soldier for review, I was absolutely beside myself. I loved the previous books in the series, but I hadn’t been reading them critically for review. What if this one didn’t measure up? What if I drove myself insane trying to analyze it? Well, I have news for everyone: It really does measure up – and what a fabulous read it is.
First things first – this is book seven in a series. If you haven’t read the first six, you are really missing out and should pick up In the Bleak Midwinter and just get started. Each book in the series contains its own self contained mystery, but as readers move through the series, they learn more about the upstate New York town of Millers Kill and get to follow the slow development of a relationship between police chief Russ Van Alstyne and the local Episcopal priest, Clare Fergusson. Though technically a mystery series, the romance in these books is one of the most satisfying and multilayered I’ve ever read. The protagonists are both very flawed people who try their best to do the right thing, so their development as characters makes for fantastic reading.
As the book opens, Russ waits for Clare’s return from deployment in the Middle East. Clare was a military pilot before her call to the priesthood, hence her current service overseas. Though the reunion is happy, the reader can tell from the interspersed veterans’ support group scenes in the book that Clare’s readjustment to civilian life will not go smoothly. On the one hand, she and Russ plan their wedding, but Clare also battles her own demons of alcohol and pills.
On the suspense side, a young member of Clare’s support group dies suddenly and the death is ruled a suicide. Clare disagrees with Russ’ finding and starts investigating on her own. Those familiar with the series will already know that finding her well-meaning way into the middle of an investigation is not entirely alien to Clare. However, this time Clare isn’t the only one investigating – and people do start finding things. If that sounds like a very cursory plot summary, that is somewhat by design. It is difficult to detail the plot of this novel without spoilers and, in addition, a mere plot summary misses one of the real beauties of the book – the emotional rollercoaster that is Clare coming home to Russ and to Millers Kill.
In addition to building a very convoluted suspense plot with a rather large cast and quite a few puzzle pieces to put together, the author also does a good job of showing how Clare and Russ pick up their relationship again upon her return home. Some of the scenes are funny, while others feel more intense. For instance, at one point while Clare and Russ spar over whether the soldier’s death was suicide or murder, the scene also reaches into Clare’s own problems since returning home, leaving the reader to wonder not only about the truth behind the mysterious death in this book but also whether Clare and Russ will make it to their wedding after all.
While Russ and Clare’s relationship runs through the heart of this and the other books in the series, they are not the only characters to watch in this novel. Police officer Hadley Knox, introduced in earlier books, is back and her own dance around the idea of a relationship with fellow police officer Kevin Flynn continues. And then there are the members of Clare’s support group. Each has a story to tell, and seeing the many different effects of war on these people is very moving. It is obvious that the author put a lot of research into the book and seeing the different struggles various characters face with reintegration into their civilian lives added a lot to what could have been a very basic police procedural. As with Spencer-Fleming’s other books, this one has heart and it makes all the difference in the reading.
As a mystery, One was a Soldier is more complex than most, and very well done. And even though it’s not technically a romance, this book features one of my very favorite couples and contains one of the most emotionally beautiful love scenes I’ve ever read. I greatly enjoyed my latest vist to Millers Kill and I can’t wait to head back there again.