To Darkness and to Death

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Miller's Kill is a small town on the brink of great changes, as the old occupations are not sustaining themselves and those who practice them are being forced to sell out. With their livelihoods threatened, many townspeople are on edge. To Darkness and to Death begins with a woman, one of the three heirs to a huge patch of land, awakening bound and imprisoned in a remote area with no idea how she got there. The town is looking for her, including Clare Fergusson, an Episcopal priest, and police chief Russ Van Alstyne—two who are irrevocably drawn to each other despite the fact that Russ has a wife.

Other events follow rapidly, including suspicious deaths and near-deaths, and the tension rises as it becomes clear that malevolent forces are at work. There is a broad cast of characters, each neatly and deftly drawn, many of whom had reason to want to shift the balance of power in Miller's Kill by kidnaping the heir, or by other means. As they work together, sometimes following skillfully placed red herrings, Claire and Russ are fighting the attraction between them as well as the destructive forces.

The two unravel the mystery, but too late to avert disaster. The conclusion is violent and unexpected, and reveals the complexity of human evil. Julia Spencer- Fleming's novels tend to draw their titles and epigraphs from nineteenth century hymns. This work's title comes from “The Day is Gently Shrinking to a Close,” a hymn that reflects the opposition between faith and despair. The moral dimension to this writer's work is always noteworthy, and this book will not disappoint.