In the High Peaks

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Adirondacks and Julia Spencer-Fleming Novels

Oh, golly gee. Suddenly it's time for me to be super-focused and get my syllabi polished and finalized, and all I want to do is hike and "play" with my friends.

I've started reading Julia Spencer-Fleming's third novel in her mystery series, the first of which is one of my favorite mysteries, In the Bleak Midwinter. Don't miss it! I enjoyed her second but I didn't think it was stellar. So now I've started the third, Out of the Deep I Cry. I hope Clare and Russ have a few more romantic sparks flying in this novel, because they really backpedaled their quasi-relationship in the second.

For all who enjoy Spencer-Fleming's mysteries, I want you to know that I have high praise for her writing, characterization, and plotting, but I am indeed puzzled that her books are touted as being set in the Adirondacks. That means, the Adirondack State Park, all 6 million acres of it, a combination of public and private land. Spencer-Fleming lives in Maine and formerly lived in Ithaca, New York, a four-hour drive from the Adirondacks. Although I'm sure she must be well acquainted with the Adirondacks to set her series here, the landscapes of her books do not resemble this region in too many ways to enumerate them all here.

I have always felt that her books are set in Washington County, most of which neighbors the Adirondack Park. Spencer-Fleming's series is set amidst many farms, creeks, and hills, but here in the actual Adirondacks we do not have many farms, not at all. The soil quality in general is so poor; it's great for raising horses, sheep, llamas, alpaca, and chickens, but one can't make a profit on a crop without huge expenditures on soil improvement. One notable exception to this would be the Adirondack lands bordering the western shores of Lake Champlain. But these towns have extremely small populations and virtually no Episcopal churches, so you can see why I'm scratching my head.

When I think of the Adirondacks, I think of wilderness. And a super-exciting, brief novel that gives you a sample of the area's chills and thrills would be Cold River by William Judson. I read it right before moving here, and I snuggled in my bed in Boston and shivered and shivered. Too good to miss!


  1. I've bought In the Bleak Midwinter after you menioned it here. Should finally read it but it's too warm just yet.
    Cold River sounds like something I need to look up as well.

    1. Oh, Caroline, it's a lovely book to read in November or December. That's when I read it. The dark nights and chill mirrored the book's atmosphere, so it was perfect. Enjoy!

      Cold River is widely available as a very low-cost used book, although it is also still in print as an inexpensive paperback. It will let you see and experience vicariously a haunting adventure in the Adirondack wilderness.

      Best to you, as always,

  2. I recently discovered this author and have now read the first three books. Though I liked the first two very much I was disappointed by the third, which seemed to follow an obvious formula. Because they are pub in the US and not here, I'd managed to buy the next 3 in the series second-hand (ex-library editions) so I suppose I'll have to read them in the hope that the series picks up again!

    I really liked the central idea of the two moral but likeable people and their attitudes to their work, as well as the strong sense of location and place which you discuss in your post. But, for me the jury is out as to whether the author is just going to recycle the same book (essentially) each time, eg like J D Robb, or if she's going to develop them so they evolve in interesting ways.

    1. Hi, Maxine,
      One thing I know is that Spencer-Fleming's most recent title, One Was a Soldier, I believe it is, received excellent reviews, both from the press and from my local reading buddies.

      It may be her seventh title, which leaves you out of luck. And, I'm sorry to say, I know nothing about the fourth through the sixth books.

      If you turn to them, do post or let me know your thoughts about them.

      Enjoy these last days of summer!