The Lenten season, together with a telling dose of local history, brings new trials for Rev. Claire Fergusson and her rumored lover, Millers Kill (NY) police chief Russ Van Alstyne.
The roof of St. Alban’s Episcopal needs repairs urgently, and that means somebody else will be getting less of the church’s money. The somebody is Dr. Allan Rouse, director of the Jonathon Ketchem Free Clinic, who’s been subsidized for years by the increasingly hard-pressed church and town and the mysteriously wealthy trust administered by Lacey Marshall, Ketchem’s influential daughter. Dr. Rouse, under additional strain from artist Deborah Clow’s tireless protests against his use of vaccines preserved with potentially dangerous thimerosal, responds to his latest reversal of fortune by taking a powder. Or so it seems until Clare and Russ look more closely into his disappearance, which echoes the disappearance 70 years earlier of Jonathon Ketchem, whose iron-willed widow endowed the clinic as a memorial to him and the four children they lost in a 1924 diphtheria outbreak. Amid well-managed flashbacks to half a dozen pivotal moments over the past half-century and more, Clare averts violence by starting an impromptu revival meeting and, imprisoned in a freezing basement with Russ, chastely cuddles to ward off hypothermia.
Despite an anemic mystery, the most ambitious of Clare’s first three cases (A Fountain Filled with Blood, 2003, etc.) scores as an unblinking account of betrayal, revenge, and human frailty.