Monday, 18 April 2011

Book Review: One Was A Soldier

One was a soldierOne Was A Soldier by Julia Spencer-Fleming

Publisher: Minotaur Books

Category: Crime

Challenges: Mystery & Suspense, What’s in a Name

Synopsis: Five veterans meet in a therapy group in the small town of Millers Kill. All of them have wounds from the war, some visible, others less so. When one of them dies the others refuse to leave their fallen comrade behind and set out to find out the circumstances around the death. In the process the individuals begin to heal. The seventh book about Episcopal Priest Clare and her Police Chief Russ looks at some of the darker sides of war, both for those who have fought and for those who are left at home.

My Thoughts: I loved this book. Spencer-Fleming has once again managed to mix the social issues with characters that feel supremely real. The town of Millers Kill, NY feels real. The characters are presented warts and all.

As with most of the books in the series this book doesn’t have a straight chronology. The book starts in September with the first meeting of a therapy group for veterans. We are then taken back to June with the return of two of the members of the group, first Eric McCrae and then Clare’s return. We get to see both those physically damaged by war and those whose wounds are psychological. Although I know very little about the affects of war I felt that the portrayal of the characters wounds was very well done.

Personally I have always found Clare’s drinking to be a bit of a problem. To me she has been using it as a crutch even before she went to Iraq. I might be slightly oversensitive here as we have alcoholism in the family (my uncle celebrated 30 years sober this week!) and so the phrase “I need a drink because…” always sets off alarm bells in my head. Ever since the scene in I Shall Not Want where Clare and Russ meet at the liquor store I’ve had an uneasy feeling in my gut. I thought the book handled Clare’s own dawning realisation about how she was “Not fine at all”. Really well, but I do wish that Russ had pushed a bit more, especially since he has his own experience.

I’ve said it before, but I am going to point it out again, one of the things I like about these books is the fact that I can relate to the reality of Millers Kill. I currently live in a small town, so small that we in fact don’t even have our own police force. Although, here in Sweden we have very few people go into the military (we are at peace dontcha know*) but I could still relate to the need to get out. To leave the small town, that causes so many of the towns inhabitants to join up. I loved the fact that Spencer-Fleming highlighted the fact that these types of towns send a disproportionate amount of their inhabitants to the military. And that, we perhaps don’t recognize this enough.

In connection with the issues surrounding the reasons why so many people from towns like Millers Kill signing up to the armed forces comes the issues regarding the poor and the working poor and I really liked the way the book touches on these issues. This is especially evident in the scene at the soup kitchen where Spencer-Fleming, through Clare, enumerates the types of people who eat at the soup kitchen. Here it is very clear that it is not just the homeless but also the working poor who are in desperate need of services like this one.

As much as I love a good mystery for me that was really secondary to the characters in this book. The mystery didn’t actually engage me that much, I was much more interested in how it affected the different characters and their relationships. The mystery allows pretty much all the veterans to face their own problems in a way that I loved. Both through the fact that they confront each other (as in the case with Tally and Clare, and with Will and Clare, both who in some ways confront Clare about her drinking) and because it gives them something to focus on (as with Eric). There were also certain aspects of the solution that I found incredibly satisfying, especially in regards to the death, I won’t say more so I don’t spoil but…

Another aspect that I really appreciated was the humour in the book. It isn’t in your face but rather sneaks up on you here and there. I especially loved this passage:

Sarah pointed to Fergusson. “You are not Daphne from Scooby-Doo. We are not going to get into a purple van and ride around town looking  for a spooky old house.” (…) Will looked at her slyly. “What are you going to do, Sarah?” She shook her head. “I guess I’m going to put on an orange turtleneck and drive the van".”

I am guessing I am not the only reader who finds Clare’s insistence on getting into police business to mirror the Scooby gangs Open-mouthed smile.

There were some things at the end of the book not related to Russ and Clare that made me want to hit someone with a two-by-four (or as someone pointed out in the discussion at Julia Spencer-Fleming’s Readers Space a “clue-by-four” which I thought was hilarious).  This desire to hurt someone also makes me really want to read the next book. Soon.

One more thing. I have a confession. For the first time in years I a suffering from a very bad case of character crush. I don’t think I’ve had one as bad as this since my crush on Gilbert Blyth when I was a teenager. So I thought I would put it out there that I would totally nail Kevin Flynn if I could. Just saying Embarrassed smile.

In conclusion I want to say that I think everyone should read this series, and if you are you should also check out the free e-book Letters to a Soldier as well as the Readers Space for extra material. All the books in the series would make excellent books for book group as they deal with so much more than the straight up mystery that one often gets from other books in the genre. I have managed to recommend the series several time already this week Smile.

*I find the Swedish insistence on our neutrality to be a sham considering we are in both Afghanistan and Libya, as well as having taken part in IFORs work in former Yugoslavia.

Previous books in the series:

In the Bleak Midwinter

A Fountain Filled With Blood

Out of the Deep I Cry

To Darkness and To Death

All Mortal Flesh

I Shall Not Want


Copyright ©2011 Zee from Notes from the North. This post was originally posted by Zee from Notes from the North. It should not be reproduced without express written permission.


Aarti said...

It sounds like this series really moves you! I shy away from religious books (though not sure if this is religious or the main character just happens to be a priest?) and for whatever reason, don't really like modern-day series, but maybe I'll check out the first book you link to!

Zee said...

What I really like about these books is that the religion really isn't preachy. The other main character is an atheist who, so far at least, has not become religious. It is more of living your faith.

Sherry said...

I like the titles of the books that are taken from hymns and carols. And your description is intriguing. So maybe I'll check the first in this series out.

Irene said...

I think this is a great review, I don't shy away from faith books, I love it. thanks for your recommendation.