Friday, July 22, 2011

Clever Murder Mystery or Cheesy Romance Novel? You Decide.

Because it is so hot right now I got this bright idea to cool things off by reading a book that had a very chilly setting. I'd read good things about Julia Spencer-Flemings In The Bleak Midwinter and, since I had a copy handy, I decided to give it a read.

As a murder mystery it is pretty good, clever, well-paced – I didn't figure it out prematurely. The setting, in the Adirondacks in winter, was excellent, the writing was good, the plot moved along. I very, very much liked the charcter of Russ Van Alstyne, the local sheriff. He was charming and smart and had a nice balance of brains and bluff. There were some interesting, sympathetic minor characters.... and then there was Clare Fergusson. Excuse me The Reverend Clare Fergusson, the town's new Anglican priest. Former military helicopter pilot, gourmet cook, wise-cracking smart-mouth who wears cool clothes (when not in her clericals), listens to cool music, drives a very, very cool car, and is a tough don't-mess-with-me cookie.

In my frequent rants about annoying heroines in some kinds of romance – and other – novels, I have often complained about the three things that can cause me to heave the book at a wall:
  1. the scene where the hero just happens to see the heroine dancing (for sheer joy) without her knowledge and decides she is just too adorable.
  2. the scene where the hero says or does something relatively innocuous and the heroine takes umbrage and stomps off in high dudgeon like a spoiled brat.
  3. the scene where the heroine does something ridiculously impulsive that no woman in her right mind would do thus putting herself in peril so that the hero has to rescue her and make everything all right (and notice how cute and vulnerable she is in the process.)
Sad to say, Reverend Clare, the Episcopal priest, does all three. One I could have handled but all three??? 

One night good old Russ (who is a married man, by the way) stops by the rectory and, through the kitchen door, just happens to witness the Rev. Clare, in a cut-off sweatshirt, dancing while she whips up a gourmet meal – which she subsequently feeds him. A few scenes later the Rev. Clare gets her patrician nose out of joint because she thinks Russ was being rude and she stomps out into the snowy night in her adorable designer suede boots and leather bomber jacket and stomps all the way back to the rectory, refusing Russ's offer for a ride when he followers her. And finally, after a torturous ride back from Albany, worrying all the way about her adorable little sports car in the on-coming blizzard, the Rev. Clare finds a mysterious message for her to meet someone at a cabin deep in the woods (in an area she has never been to) and, instantly, jumps into said adorable sports car and zooms off to the rescue. Luckily, good old Dudley Dooright Russ finds out in time and comes to the rescue – which gives him the opportunity to get her out of her flimsy, ice-caked clothes. Sigh.

Look, this was a good story and there were some good characters in it and, for the most part, I liked it. I will even go so far as to say that if Clare had been a social worker or a new cop or a teacher or anything else, I might have liked her a little better. But a priest??? Yes, I know priests are people, too – heaven knows I just wrote a book about an all-too-human priest. What really bothered me about it was that, other than going to parish meetings, saying a few prayers here and there, and mentions of services she was officiating at, this priest had not the faintest evidence of any level of spirituality. Consequently, every mention of her “priesthood” might as well have had blinking letters that read “gimmick, gimmick, gimmick.”

Obviously people like these books as there are more in the series. Chances are I might even read another one myself but when are genre writers going to stop concocting these formula-driven, ridiculous, insult-to-womanhood characters?

As a mystery, I give this book a 4. As a romance, I give it a 2. So I'm splitting the difference with a 3 – because I like Russ. But I think he's headed down a dangerous slope and I don't think the local priest is going to help him avoid any more near-occasions-of-sin.

Thanks for reading.


  1. Speaking of insults to women: Years ago I was in Dallas to speak at a literary lunch. It was Halloween and the Reverend who gave the invocation was female. She told me when she stopped to get coffee that AM, someone complimented her on her costume. We laughed. Sort of.

    Would a male pastor be told "Great costume?" I don't think so. He would get respect. Not snark.

  2. I was pretty annoyed by the way a female priest was portrayed in this book. Whenever women try to be taken seriously in a new field of endeavor they have a lot to overcome. Ridiculous women who flirt with married men and do foolish things are NOT fair to women in the priesthood. But the books are very popular....

    I have been told that in subsequent books they have an affair and then his wife gets killed -- great.

  3. Yeah I hate when the heroine stomps off and THEN gets herself into horrible trouble so that he has to save her and then she has to apologize for being a brat. If I was the hero in those romance novels I would just chalk it up to a loss and let her get herself out of trouble.

  4. Ted, are you involved with Ravenous Romance? What is going on with them? I wrote for them and never received the payment they offered for my stories. I thought they were out of business.


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