Current Reading: Julia Spencer-Fleming, John Varley

In the Bleak Midwinter by Julia Spencer-Fleming – mystery, first in series.

Clare Fergusson is the new priest at St. Alban’s Episcopal church in Miller’s Kill, New York (“kill” is a term for a body of water, most commonly a creek, but can also be a tidal inlet, river or strait). Clare isn’t your typical priest, not only for her gender but also for her background as a tough Army chopper pilot.

A newborn infant is left at the church rectory door which brings her together with the town’s police chief, Russ Van Alstyne, who’s also ex-Army and a cynical good shepherd for the stray sheep of his hometown. Their search for the baby’s mother – and intense pressure from potential adoptive parents – quickly leads them into the secrets that shadow the town.

Clare is characterized as intelligent though pushy at times, and she often goes beyond the expected for a non-authorized police snoop. She also occasionally does thoughtless things like going off by herself in a dangerous situation. Nevertheless, she’s a likable character and the story here is well told. The author keeps readers guessing until the mystery is solved, or at least most readers. I guessed with about twenty pages to go, but enjoyed the book to the end. The relationship between the priest and the (married) Sheriff will no doubt develop in future books in the series

I have so many books stacked up right now I don’t know when I’ll get to the next in the series, but look forward to it. These have very well drawn setting and interesting characters. Good for an afternoon or two.

Irontown Blues by John Varley – science fiction. The last Varley I read before this was back in 1979-1984, when I read his Gaea trilogy, consisting of Titan, Wizard and Demon. Honestly I didn’t like the second and third of those books very much, and only finished them to finish the trilogy.

I read a review of this one that got me interested, so I tried it and I really liked it a lot.

This is labeled an “Eight Worlds Novel” and there are three previous ones, The  Ophiuchi Hotline, (1977), Steel Beach (1992) and The Golden Globe (1998), neither of which I’ve read, and I didn’t feel at a loss in not having done so when reading this book.

The book’s protagonist, Christopher Bach, was a policeman in one of the largest Lunar cities when the A.I. Lunar Central Computer had a breakdown later called The Big Glitch. The problem turned into all-out urban war. When order was restored, Chris’s life was changed by his role in the conflict. He went private, assisted by his genetically altered dog Sherlock – a wonderful character! – and emulates the tough guys in the noir books and movies that he loves.

When Bach takes the case of a woman involuntarily infected with an engineered virus, he is on the hunt to track down the biohackers in the infamous district of Irontown. He’s in for much more than he bargained for. This is a noir mystery/SF novel set on the moon with great characters and sense of place. Recommended.

I plan on getting and reading the other Eight Worlds novels.

So how about you?
What have you been reading?

About Richard Robinson

Enjoying life in Portland, OR
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15 Responses to Current Reading: Julia Spencer-Fleming, John Varley

  1. tracybham says:

    This week I finished THE ASPHALT JUNGLE (1949) by W.R. Burnett and The MURDER OF MY AUNT by Richard Hull, both written before 1950.

    Right now, I am reading the 3rd Charlie Chan book, Behind that Curtain.

    For my husband’s birthday this weekend we watched two films: Sherlock Holmes (with Robert Downey Jr.) and All Through the Night from 1942 with Humphrey Bogart, Conrad Veidt, and Peter Lorre.

    I read and liked IN THE BLEAK MIDWINTER, and read the 2nd book in the series. I would like to read more of them. Haven’t read any of John Varley’s books, although I have one from my son to try (TITAN).

    • Happy birthday to your husband! I don’t think the Downey Holmes is the best, but hope you enjoyed it anyway. If you’d asked me to pick a Bogy film to watch, I’d have said “To Have and Have Not”.

  2. Richard, I’m sufficiently intrigued by IN THE BLEAK MIDWINTER and tempted to read the book. Unfortunately, I too have a lot of books to read.

  3. Jeff Meyerson says:

    We’ve both been fans of the Julia Spencer-Fleming series from the beginning. It’s been frustrating waiting years between entries – not a problem for you! – and since the last books came out in 2006-2008-2011-2013, I’m afraid the series is done. The Adirondacks setting was a major part of the appeal, too. Also Russ Van Alstyne’s feisty mother, Jackie’s favorite character.

    IRONTOWN BLUES is going on my list, especially since you said I don’t need to read the earlier books in the series.

    I did read some this week, though overall it was a bad reading month. THE FOUR MILLION was O. Henry’s second collection of stories (originally 1906), and includes one of his most famous tales, “The Gift of the Magi.” I’m enjoying these short tales, evocative of a bygone era in New York.

    THE DAUGHTER (aka THE UNDERTAKER’S DAUGHTER) was an entertaining if not totally satisfying book by Sara Blaedel. A 40 year old widow in Denmark inherits the funeral home her late father – who deserted the family when she was seven – owned in Racine, Wisconsin. She goes there to see what’s what and stays longer than planned. Unfortunately, when you get to the end, you read “To Be Continued.” Not sure if I will read the sequel or not.

    After finishing Jo Walton’s book on the Hugos, I decided to read her own Hugo and Nebula and British Fantasy Award-winning novel, AMONG OTHERS. I’m glad I did. Morwenna is a 15 year old Welsh science fiction fan (much like the author was). I’ll let you discover the plot yourself if it interests you. Yes, it is fantasy, but there are a lot of science fiction discussions as well.

    I’ve started Todd McAulty’s THE ROBOTS OF GOTHAM, but I’m not sure I will make it through 688 pages (even on the Kindle) about a future (2083) where machines have subjugated much of the world. This is the last of the four library ebooks I had. Also reading (at last) P. J. Tracy’s latest Magozzi & Rolseth/Monkeewrench book, THE GUILTY DEAD, but have just started it. And I’m reading Rick Wilson’s self-explanatory EVERYTHING TRUMP TOUCHES DIES.

    • I got the Fleming book from the library, but haven’t yet checked to see if they have the rest. I know you don’t always agree with my recommendations on books, but I think you’ll like the Varley. I can’t recall when I last read any O. Henry. I may try the Walton, but not the McAulty.

  4. Patti Abbott says:

    Reading NEWS OF THE WORLD by Pauletter Giles, which reminds me a lot of a cross between THE SEARCHERS and TRUE GRIT. It’s for my book club and it was my pick so I better like it. Also have the book by Bernstein’s daughter to read.

  5. I was blown away by John Varley’s short fiction back in the 1970s. Varley went to Hollywood for a few years and then returned to SF with some novels I thought were mediocre. It seemed like Varley’s magic was gone. But, I’ll give IRONTOWN BLUES a try.

  6. Steve Oerkfitz says:

    I am a big fan of Varleys short fiction and his early novels. He disappeared for awhile and came back with some pretty light weight novels that seemed like Heinlein juveniles. I do have a copy of Irontown Blues on the top of my tbr pile along with new books by Peter Robinson, G.M. Ford and William Shaw but library books keep interfering.
    Last week I read the new George Pelecanos The Man Who Came Uptown and liked it a lot. Also read some George R. R. Martin short fiction inspired by my reading of Jo Walton’s Hugo bk. A Song for Lya and Seven Times Kill a Man are especially good. Am now reading Lethal White by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling) and am liking it a lot but it is long. Also just bough Labyrinth of the Spirits by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. Also quite long. I really love Zafon’s previous books in the series esp the first Shadow of the Wind.

  7. Jerry House says:

    Read John Connolly’s first collection NOCTURNES, two Guardians of the Galaxy graphic collections, and that was it — slow week. I’m currently about one-fourth through Dean Koontz’s latest Jane Hawk thriller, THE FORBIDDEN DOOR. — so far, so good.

    I was a great fan of John Varley’s back in the Seventies but haven’t read anything by him in years. Gotta correct that.

    Enjoy your week, Rick.

    • Taken care of, Jerry. Your slow week equals my full one, I’m lucky if I get through more than one book these days. I’m reading a fat fantasy novel now (on page 53) that will take the rest of the week, longer if I happen upon any baseball playoff games. I haven’t read a Koontz in many years.

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