The highbrow love affair between Episcopal pastor Clare Fergusson and married police chief Russ Van Alstyne ratchets up a notch or two in Julia Spencer-Fleming's fifth novel featuring the troubled duo, All Mortal Flesh. Van Alstyne has confessed his love for Fergusson to his wife, and she has taken it as you would expect: she has kicked the police chief out of the house, forcing him to seek temporary domicile with his mother. Russ reacts by taking a short leave of absence; upon his return, he is shocked (or so he says) to find that his wife has been murdered, her throat slit and her body defaced by a hunting knife identical to one that has gone missing from Van Alstyne's backpack. The veteran cop is pulled off the case and relieved of his badge, the investigation taken over by a zealous state cop who has apparently made up her mind that Russ is guilty. With suspicion and betrayal at every turn, Russ and Clare must investigate on the Q.T., staying one step ahead of the none-too-friendly state police and the mounting evidence against one or both of them. All Mortal Flesh would be best enjoyed having read the previous installment, To Darkness and to Death, as numerous references are made to events that unfolded in that book. Nonetheless, it works as a stand-alone; the characters and relationships are complex and meaning-laden, the plot is carefully laid out and quickly paced and the tension of the forbidden love between the protagonists colors their every moment together.

 

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