The first in a mystery series set in Millers Kill with a police chief and a female priest as the detectives.

Publication year: 2002
Format: print
Page count: 358
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

Russ van Alstyne is the Police Chief in Millers Kill. He was born there but moved away and has recently returned with his wife. Russ is a hardworking cop with a military background. He’s somewhat surprised to find out that the town’s new Episcopal priest is a woman, Reverend Clare Fergusson. However, she’s a down-to-earth woman who is trying to help the people around her and the Chief soon warms up to her.

Christmas is near and it’s in the middle of a bitterly cold winter. Someone has left a baby at the Church’s steps and Claire finds him. A rich local couple wants desperately to adopt him but that can’t happen until the child’s parents are found. However, a couple of days later, a young woman is found dead. She’s suspected of being the mother of the foundling boy, and Russ and Claire set out to find her murderer.

The plot is fast-paced and I enjoyed the characters a lot, mostly. However, the plot might be frustrating to mystery readers because the characters don’t find crucial information until very late. I also found the ending unbelievable and some of Claire’s actions were too impulsive.

Russ is a married man but his wife doesn’t appear in the book. In fact, Russ seems pretty unhappy about her own business which seems to take up most of her time. Instead, he spends a lot of time with Claire. I hoped that they would have been friends but unfortunately it seems that they are heading for romance.

Claire is a newcomer to the town. She doesn’t know the people nor the proper way to dress in the middle of winter. She also has a sports car which simply can’t handle the snow and ice. She’s curious and determined to make a difference. She clearly underestimates the damage that cold can do even in a short amount of time but that’s a mistake inexperienced people often make. However, she’s also very impulsive and very trusting which I found a little contradictory with her former career as a helicopter pilot in the military. She’s very flashy compered to Russ who is the older and more experienced police officer. I was also a bit puzzled as to why Russ would include a priest into the investigation. Sometimes, her presence was called for, such as a grief counselor but I didn’t expect her to be able to interrogate suspects.

The rest of the cast were quite entertaining. Harlene is a very competent dispatcher at the police station and she knows the other officers very well. The murdered girl’s parents were quite repugnant in real life, but entertaining in a book. The town was clearly divided between the rich and the poor, and the rich want to keep the poor out, even from a church. I was rather surprised that the amount of time Claire and Russ spent together didn’t spawn more rumors or perhaps even a threat to dismiss the Reverend for improper behavior.

The setting was well done. I enjoyed the great depiction of cold weather and its effects on hapless Claire. In fact, the weather was a greater threat than the villain and that’s pretty rare.

Unfortunately, when I heard that one of the main characters is a priest and the other is married, I was looking forward for them being friends and because of that, the kindling of a romance was disappointing. Also, the romance had quite a cliched elements, such as Russ watching Claire dance when she doesn’t know that he’s watching and Russ complaining that his wife doesn’t understand him. So, while I enjoyed the book, I don’t think I will continue with the series.