Spencer-Fleming taps into the deepest part of the American psyche in her latest in the series pairing Episcopal priest Clare Ferguson and Police Chief Russ Van Alstyne of Millerís Kill in upstate New York. Clare has just returned from a tour in Iraq, Russ anxious to reconnect after their separation with marriage on his mind. As Clare joins a group of other returning vets for weekly therapy sessions, it becomes clear how difficult this transition is for the men and women so recently in the heat of battle. Their loved ones expect them to be the same as when they left, but none are unscathed by what they have seen and done in the name of their country.
One vet, Millerís Kill police officer Eric McCrea, struggles with barely controlled rage that surfaces with any hint of conflict, too easily triggered by the demands of his job in law enforcement. Trip Stillman, a physician, hides the terrible truth of a traumatic brain injury. Athlete Will Ellis has lost both his legs, Tally McNabb is concealing an affair and a deadly secret, and Reverend Clare is enmeshed in a nightmarish routine of uppers, downers and alcohol to escape the terror that has followed her home. The message is clear: the people who left have come home changed, and each of them will face daunting odds in resolving this transition.
Millerís Kill is one of many patriotic towns that send its young men and women off to war then welcomes them home but remains generally unaware of the emotional problems of returning to families and jobs. As each is integrated into the novel - a mystery that begins with the tragic death of one of the vets - the extent of the difficulty is explored in telling detail. While preparing for a marriage ceremony with Clare, Russ is unaware of the demons his fiancť faces as the two disagree on whether the soldierís death was suicide or homicide, an ideological and psychological battle that threads through the story and adds depth to the compromises committed individuals must make to their relationship and their expectations.
As each soldier deals with personal issues, an ugly secret is discovered that relates to the financial temptations of war and its many profiteers. Once again, we are reminded of the cost of war to families and the obscene fortunes to be made by insiders sheltered by the machinery of bureaucracy. Spencer-Fleming doesnít sugarcoat reality: the pain and grief of loss, the challenges to returning vets burdened by what they have seen, and the complicated terrain of patriotism, greed and political opportunism. Their stories salted with still unresolved relationships and unfinished business, these relatable characters carry a well-written plot with the promise of more to come.