It just keeps getting better

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This is the ninth book in an outstanding mystery series that shouldn't be missed, starring a nonconformist Episcopal priest Clare Fergusson and the Millers Kill Police Chief Russ Van Alstyne.

The book opens in 1952 with the discovery of a young woman’s body on a remote road in a small Adirondack township. Wearing a party dress and nicely groomed, she is missing her shoes, stockings, and purse with no signs for a cause of death. In 1972, another corpse is discovered, same location, same conditions, same time of year. Then fast forward to the present, when a third young woman’s body is found in the exact way, and Chief Van Alstyne is now in charge of the investigation.

These unexplained deaths propel the mystery. Circling through three time periods, the story also involves the current issues of the Millers Kill Police Department which is facing a town referendum on dissolving the force. Russ focuses his department on searching for answers to the death of this unknown subject, knowing they face particular public scrutiny at this time while also acknowledging that they are grasping at straws. Their legwork takes them several places, revisiting people of interest from 1972, looking into local resorts and restaurants, following up on cell phone use, and going to check out the itinerant carnival workers at the the annual Washington County Fair.

Meanwhile at home, Russ is settling into newly married life with Clare and their baby son Ethan. Clare is having trouble adapting to motherhood, trying to do too much and not willing to accept enough help from caregivers and her mother-in-law. Her stress provides some real challenges to her mental health, but she soldiers on, reaching out to people in need, continuing her parish duties, and taking on a new seminary intern.

There’s a lot going on here with themes of misogyny, tax cuts, PTSD, cold cases, community policing, and transgendered people, but it is skillfully handled and woven seamlessly into the story. Some of it is fairly melancholy as the demons of past lives and the pressures of current ones weigh heavily on many characters. Fortunately, it is leavened with the author’s trademark humor, which can be ironic and witty. The bantering among the officers and between Russ and Clare, the misunderstandings across generational divides, and the characters’ hidden thoughts and asides are lots of fun.

This may be the longest book in the series, but it is as creative and fresh as the first book with a maturity in writing. Short chapters, moral dilemmas, familiar characters, and a complex mystery make this compelling reading. I’ve read the book twice, and I can say that the resolution to the mystery is exceptionally clever and unusual but that the clues are provided with fairness. It ends on a cliffhanger that involves not one, but two of the characters’ stories.