Or, perhaps I should quote Russ and say, "Christ on a crutch!" I just finished "All Mortal Flesh," and I am torn between joy at the prize of another Clare/Russ novel and mourning over what I read. This powerhouse fifth entry in the series about the feisty female Episcopal priest and the married police chief of Miller's Kill unreels developments galore for the star-crossed duo. The earlier books revolved around tragedies befalling other denizens of this small upstate New York town. Clare and Russ got involved by virtue of their professions and untangled the murderous mysteries. But those misadventures didn't directly dive-bomb our very human heroes. "All Mortal Flesh" does. It *is* about them; it strikes at them -- and their sympathetic readers -- mercilessly.
The first half of the novel delivers one tremendous jolt and another nearly as high on the shock Richter scale, but then advances as pretty straightforward procedural narrative -- making one wonder why another 150 pages might be necessary. Never fear. Suddenly, after a beautifully emotional scene in which Russ and Clare call upon the healing impetus of forgiveness, everything turns on its axis and the story is off and running again at full tilt. I shall not give any plot switchbacks away, but suffice it to say that as one nears the last pages, there is a certain expectation of how the book will conclude and where that might leave priest and chief. However, it never does to assume, especially with the consummately talented Spencer-Fleming choreographing the action. I felt drained and grieved after reading the final pages. I can only hope that we have not seen the last of Clare Fergussen and Russ Van Alstyne.
It was wonderful to visit with the many familiar faces we've come to know, including the MK police officers, the church assistant, Russ's mom, Father Aberforth, and others. The new woman deacon and woman state police investigator added zing and zest, as did the reporter, Ben Beagle (love that name). And, as always, Spencer-Fleming peppers the pages with humor now and then, adding just the right light seasoning. Still, "All Mortal Flesh" is no comedy. Not. At. All. We are starkly reminded that sometimes the vagaries of life and death blow away the best intentions of the best-intentioned and honorable people.