Julia Spencer-Fleming’s mystery-romance novel “I Shall Not Want,” originally published in hardcover in June 2008, has just been re-issued in trade paperback. The title is the sixth in the Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne series.

“I Shall Not Want” reprises the star-crossed, tormented love relationship between Fergusson — an Episcopalian priest in Miller’s Kill, a small town in upstate New York — and Van Alstyne, the town’s police chief. Both are strong characters on the page and also as they are depicted in their lives.

In addition to her clerical duties, Fergusson is a National Guard Apache helicopter pilot who’s done a tour in Iraq. She is quite capable of giving Van Alstyne a run for his money in facing danger and protecting the citizens of Miller’s Kill, as well as in emotional ambivalence about their entangled relationship.

A Maine native, Spencer-Fleming creates compelling characters, especially women. She introduces here Hadley Knox, a single mom in need of a job who returns after failed dreams of life in California. Clare recommends she apply for the open position of deputy in the town police department.

Still capable of turning heads, Knox, a former prison guard, ads rich chemistry to the police department and the story. When a series of bodies start turning up, she more than carries her weight as a deputy, and impresses both Van Alstyne and the other officers as being more than just a pretty face.

The first body found has been dead for more than a year, and because of its decomposed state, it takes much of the book to learn its identify. The other two are migrant Mexican workers, part of a large but little-seen population (many are illegal immigrants) who work on farms in the area, including Van Alstyne’s sister’s farm.

To this mix throw in a charitable nun who looks after the welfare of the migrants (often bending the law), and a family of misanthropes with a pack of German shepherds that keep trespassers at bay, and Miller’s Kill is set for action.

But there are problems with “I Shall Not Want.” There is a crucial backstory about the death of the chief’s wife (not to be confused with Clare), a death that fuels lingering feelings of culpability and guilt in both Clare and Russ, but the backstory is never adequately portrayed.

The structure of the story seems a bit wobbly as well. It opens with the ending, with the chief getting shot and dying (or not), and although dramatic, its adds little that is substantive to the setup for what follows. After the opening, the story traverses a long runway before taking off. Fortunately, there are tangential tales that do add some lift.

I greatly liked and admired Spencer-Fleming’s preceding book, “One Was a Soldier.” I thought it finely nuanced and richly complex in plotting, and I was completely taken by the theme. But as with “One Was a Soldier,” I found the wrapping up of loose plot threads at the end of “I Shall Not Want” less than masterful.

The release of the trade paperback of “I Shall Not Want” was no doubt timed to capitalize on the perennial swelling of summer reading lists with the hope of growing Spencer-Fleming’s fanbase (a mass paperback was released four years ago). But attracting more fans would have been better served with a trade paperback of “One Was a Solider.”

If you’re a Spencer-Fleming fan, as I remain: Not to worry. She’s got a new Ferguson/Van Alstyne mystery-romance coming out in November.

Frank O Smith is a Maine writer, ghostwriter, and writing coach whose novel, “Dream Singer,” was a finalist for the Bellwether Prize. He can be reached at:



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