Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A Review of "One Was a Soldier" [25]

One Was a Soldier: A Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne Mystery  by Julia Spencer-Fleming
Minotaur Books, ISBN 978-0312334895
April 12, 2011, 336 pages

When the Reverend Clare Fergusson's National Guard unit was called up, and off she went to fly combat helicopter missions, all Russ Van Alstyne hoped was that she would come back home alive, not terribly injured in some way as may do. And that is what seems to have happened when she returned after 18 months to Millers Kill, NY and once again took up her job as Rector of St. Albans parish. But looks can be deceiving, because while she won't admit it, even to herself, she is in fact very damaged.

Even when she join a veteran's counseling group, with four others from the town, she is still playing her role as the fixer, the reconciler, to the others whose injuries may be more obvious. There is one young man, not even 20, who lost both his legs. There is the police officer whose bouts anger and rage since he has returned becomes, at times, uncontrollable to the point that it is about to cost him everything that he cares about. There is the doctor, trying his best to hide the memory loss a brain injury has cost him and there is the young woman who seems haunted by the terrible things she admits that she has done. They may not be very forthcoming about their problems in their sessions, but they are comrades, so when one of them ends up dead, seemingly by their own hand, it pulls them even closer together. Clare  is insistent that it must be murder, no matter what the facts seem to show. Readers of previous books in the series will not be surprised when she rushes out into the face of danger and...with Russ, trying to protect her back as always...find themselves in the middle of a crime much bigger than they first suspected.

It is no secret that I have enjoyed the previous books in this series, and this, the seventh book, does not disappoint fans. Yes, you could read it as a stand alone I think, but really, it should be read in order for fullest enjoyment. Because at the heart of this series is the relationship between Russ and Clare and it has taken them, and us, years to get to this point, the point where they may finally get married. Or will they? And while that relationship is always central to Spencer-Fleming's books, there is a lot more of interest here too. The story of each of the troubled, damaged returning soldiers, and the whole subject of the challenges these returning warriors and their families face, is often very moving. Also, the subplots of some returning characters, like Hadley and Kevin, are interesting, and the reader will certainly hope to see more of that storyline in future installments. And of course, as always, there is a quite satisfying mystery at the center of the story for us to try and figure out.

Readers of my reviews of the previous Spencer-Fleming books will know that sometime Clare drives me a little nuts and this book is no exception. For someone in the counseling business, at least in part, she is sure reluctant to get help when she needs it...but this time I noticed a difference in my reaction to some of the less than reasonable things she does. Yes, she is flawed, and stubborn, and sometimes you just want to yell at her, never more so than in this book...but you want to because you consider her like someone you know, someone you care about, a friend. And really, what better reaction can an author hope for from a reader?

One thing that I did think odd in this book was what a small role her beliefs, her relationship with God, played in Clare's attempt to deal with the effects of her experiences in combat. I mean, she is a minister, right? Unlike in previous books, this time we see little of her role as a minister, which I missed a bit, but her lack of making any connection between her religious beliefs and dealing with her experiences seems a little out of  character. Still, a damaged Clare, not so self assured as she usually seems, not able to handle everything thrown her way, also makes for a very interesting change.
And, as she so often does, the author finishes off this installment in the series with a classic cliffhanger. I can't say I was totally surprised...but wow, it was a great way to entice us back to see what happens. We fans can only hope that we don't have to wait too long to find out how that turns out!
A very good series and this book is as good as any of the previous books.

By the way, the publisher has also made available, for a limited time, a short collection of some letters some of the characters in One Was a Soldier sent to each other while oversees. It is called Letters To a Soldier and is available free, as an e-book, from all your favorite sources for e-books, including Amazon, Apple, Barnes and Noble, Borders,  Indiebound, Kobo and Sony. Fans will certainly want to check that out I think!

My thanks to Library Thing Early Reviewers and the publisher for providing an ARC of this book for my enjoyment.


  1. I'm going to be so glad to read this book. It's been a long time since a Clare/Russ story. I totally understand your comments about Clare and the frustration. Sometimes, I just want to shake her. :-)

  2. I had exactly that same frustration with this one -- the fact that Claire's faith doesn't factor into her ongoing recovery. It would even have been completely authentic and honest for her to rail against God -- but there wasn't even that. Just didn't feel right to me. BUT -- ultimately, I enjoyed this concluding chapter, too.

  3. I've been drawn to this book and didn't realize it's part of a series. It sounds like a series I would enjoy.

  4. yes Kay, but you want to shake her in a nice way..lol

    Eleanor, I am happy someone else noticed it. I can't say I did when I read it..I was caught up in the story. But after a little thought...

    Kathy, I would vote that you should! I very enjoyable series. And one that is really holding up, not something that always happens with series.

  5. It does seem that you are deeply invested in these characters.

  6. Great review. I too loved this book and the series. I felt she had been away from her priestly duties for so long in the army that she may have felt alienated from her God, and I also wondered if the author wasn't laying the ground work for some giant crisis of conscience in a future book. And don't we all look forward to that?

  7. Jenners, it's not like I am inviting them to dinner. Now if I could...lol

    Tina, you may be right...but I would have liked a hint of that, something, it it was the case. I was more that she sort of just forgot she was a minister.
    And let me just say...I DO NOT want er to change jobs!Become a social worker or something. NO! NO!


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