Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James, Books 9-12 by Deborah Crombie

now_may_weepNow May You Weep
Gemma is invited by her friend and former landlord Hazel Cavendish to a “cookery weekend” in the Scottish Highlands at a bed and breakfast managed by one of Hazel’s old school friends and her husband. Little does Gemma know, however, that the whole event has been arranged to bring Hazel back to the area where she grew up so that she might reconnect and explore her connection with her first love, Donald Brodie. Meanwhile, back in London, Hazel’s husband Tim figures out what’s going on and resolves to do something about it.

The book begins slowly, introducing us to larger-than-life Scottish stereotype Donald and the other guests and lingering quite a while on the history of a pair of local distilleries. (Nothing will ever convince me that whiskey tastes good, and consequently I couldn’t get too interested in this aspect of the book.) Eventually, Donald is shot and killed at point-blank range and Gemma must watch from the outside as a local Detective Chief Inspector takes charge of the case and doesn’t avail himself of her assistance. Of course, she gets involved anyway.

Now May You Weep is a decent book. I didn’t guess the culprit, but I thought some aspects of the conclusion were a bit far-fetched. Revelations that might’ve had impact somehow did not. Too, I was saddened that an element of the supernatural has crept back into this series in the form of Hazel having dreams about her great-grandmother that lead her to uncover the truth behind the feud that kept Donald’s father from approving of their long-ago engagement.

Still, it was sufficiently enjoyable that my enthusiasm for the series remains undimmed.

in_dark_houseIn a Dark House
These columns sometimes take a long time to complete, as exemplified by the fact that over 2.5 years have passed since I finished Now May You Weep. In the interim, I got obsessed with podcasts, but my book fervor has returned and, man, was I ever in the mood for some Deborah Crombie. Thankfully, In a Dark House is very good.

When a body is found in a burned warehouse owned by a prominent politician, Duncan is assigned to investigate. Meanwhile Gemma, traumatized by recently having failed to find a missing child, learns about a missing woman who lived nearby. Could she be the unidentified victim of the fire? But wait, here are two more missing women and a kid, to boot. Of course, everything ends up being related, and past a certain point, some of it was kind of predictable, but it was also satisfying.

I enjoyed spending more time with Duncan’s new Sergeant, Doug Cullen, as well as the introduction of Maura Bell, the local inspector who should’ve had the case before Duncan turned up. I hope to see more of them both in future installments. I continue to love Gemma, and loved that she was able to regain some confidence with this case. I loved that we saw Duncan being kind of an ass a few times, and how there are some unresolved things between them at the end of the book. I also loved that one suspect’s desperate actions due to custody arrangements eventually prompted Duncan to realize there wasn’t anything he wouldn’t do to keep his son, Kit, with him.

I didn’t love that it was super obvious that the case was going to prevent Duncan from making it to Kit’s custody hearing on time. It’s one of those things where you wish you could shake a fictional character. Gemma yelled at him, but not enough, I thought, and then started feeling she’d said too much. It was all very frustrating. I also thought Crombie tipped her hand with one specific character, who gave me suspicious feels the moment they were first introduced. Still, on the whole, I enjoyed this book quite a lot and vow to not let so much time elapse before the next one.

water_like_stoneWater Like a Stone
It was only 1.5 years between books this time. Progress!

It’s Christmas, and Duncan, Gemma, the boys, and the dogs have all made the trip to the cozy town of Nantwich to stay with Duncan’s family for the holidays. On the night of their arrival, however, Duncan’s sister Juliet discovers the entombed body of an infant while working on renovating an old barn for some clients. Meanwhile, she’s contending with her atrocious husband who believes what his slimy business partner has been telling him about Juliet, namely that she’s been unfaithful. Actually, until about the 75% mark, most of Duncan and Gemma’s part of the story is just accessory to family drama, as Juliet’s troubled teen daughter Lally also figures prominently.

That makes sense, of course, since Scotland Yard has not officially been called in to assist with the case. And, happily, the investigative team from Cheshire CID (and here I also include the pathologist) are extremely well drawn and enjoyable characters. I liked them so much, in fact, that if I learned Deborah Crombie was going to start a spinoff series focusing on them, I’d be ecstatic. Before long, another person is murdered, and then we wait for the detectives to put everything together.

I want to emphasize the “we wait” part, because my one major complaint about this book is that the solution to the mystery is pretty easy to guess. Granted, it took me longer than it should have to realize what had happened with the infant in the barn, but the identity of the character whose anonymous and deranged (cruelty to animals warning!) point-of-view we occasionally access was quickly obvious, and I knew that the sporadic mentions of a teenager’s death by drowning one month prior were going to pay off eventually. I still enjoyed the book very much despite this, though!

where_memoriesWhere Memories Lie
Erika Rosenthal, Gemma’s friend, came to England fleeing Nazi Germany. Her father, a jeweler, stayed behind but gifted her his latest creation, an exquisite diamond brooch, though this was stolen before Erika even made it out of Germany. Now it has turned up for auction in London and Erika has asked Gemma to investigate the matter. The day after Gemma makes her inquiries at the auction house, the employee she spoke to is intentionally run down by a Land Rover while crossing the street on her way home. Convinced this has something to do with the brooch, Gemma prevails upon Kincaid to take the case.

As Gemma and Kincaid work the case in the present—assisted by Doug Cullen and Melody Talbot, whose points-of-view I was glad to see, even though Doug is bitter and abrasive—a parallel investigation unfolds in 1952 involving the murder of David Rosenthal, Erika’s husband. I don’t know whether I’ve read too many mysteries in general or too much Crombie in particular, but I found the solution in both cases even easier to guess than in Water Like a Stone. The three chief suspects in the present each appear so thoroughly innocent that one starts to look at background characters. Who could it be that we’ve seen enough for it to be a satisfying solution? Really, there was only one person and from there the whole motive unfurled.

That said, I still really like the characters in this series, particularly Gemma. I’m also glad we got to know so much more about Erika. As the novel begins, Erika’s daily struggle is described as “the balancing of each day’s small, luminous joys against the ever-threatening beast of despair” but Gemma’s efforts afford her not only closure regarding what happened to David but also another lost romantic opportunity, initially “too painful to contemplate even now.” By the end of the novel, Erika seems to be opening herself up to the possibility of love again, and I hope she’s able to find some happiness. The great thing about Crombie is that she’ll be sure to keep us updated—I’m still super grateful she’s never forgotten the cat Duncan adopted in, like, book two.

Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James, Books 5-8 by Deborah Crombie

dreaming_of_bonesDreaming of the Bones
After making my way through the first four books in this series with reasonable alacrity, I really stalled out on Dreaming of the Bones at first. A large part of the problem for me was that it had to do with the death of a poet five years prior, and was thus strewn with quotations of both poetry and flowery letters.

Once I summoned the fortitude to continue, however, I ended up enjoying the book well enough. We are introduced to Victoria, Duncan’s ex-wife, and I appreciated that both of them are painted sympathetically. Their relationship falling apart was no one’s fault in particular, and both have the wisdom now to recognize that. Victoria is on the English faculty at Cambridge and is working on a book about poet Lydia Brooke, whose death was presumed to be suicide. Victoria suspects otherwise and Duncan (as usual) keeps an open mind about her instincts and agrees to look into things even though the local police are not exactly enthusiastic about him poking around.

Although I generally prefer stories where Duncan is assigned to the case of a stranger, Vic’s involvement did offer many emotional consequences for Duncan. Too bad there really weren’t any consequences for the rule-breaking and jurisdiction-trampling he engaged in throughout. Also, I really disliked that Gemma works out the big reveal through a spate of poetic interpretation. Ugh. At the same time, there’s a scene at the end that made me verklempt, so… not my favorite, but still definitely worth reading!

kissed_goodbyeKissed a Sad Goodbye
Duncan and Gemma are assigned to the case of a body found lovingly laid out in a park on the Isle of Dogs. They soon learn her identity—Annabelle Hammond, the beautiful and determined director of Hammond’s Fine Teas who has several lovers on the go. But is what happened to her the result of romantic jealousy, or could it be tied to something else entirely?

Two months have passed since the events of Dreaming of the Bones, and Duncan is still struggling with (spoiler alert!) his newfound fatherhood. The perspective, however, is mostly on Gemma, who is having some trouble figuring out what she wants and who she wants to be. Initially this manifests in a decision to take piano lessons, but soon involves another man.

Honestly, I failed to be convinced by Gemma’s little side romance with Gordon the clarinet-playing busker, who showed up in some earlier book in a greatly diminished capacity. I recall in his earlier appearance that he was brusque and uninterested, but here we get a retcon about how he was secretly intrigued by Gemma all along. It’s played up to be this mutual attraction that she must decide whether to pursue, but he’s just not accessible enough as a character to really make this convincing.

That said, I liked the mystery itself. There were flashbacks throughout to the ’40s, when some of the characters were evacuated to the countryside as children, and they not only elucidate the present but reveal one particular character to be more sympathetic than one might ordinarily assume. On the whole, definitely worth reading, even if there were parts of it I didn’t especially like.

finer_endA Finer End
A Finer End is somewhat tough to review, because I did genuinely like some of the characters that Duncan and Gemma encounter in Glastonbury, where they’ve traveled as a favor to Duncan’s cousin, Jack, whose vicar girlfriend has been injured in a hit-and-run accident. The problem is that Jack has supposedly been receiving messages from a long-dead monk in the form of automatic writing, a claim that Duncan and Gemma accept without question. On top of this, there’s a painter who receives visions not only of one particular little girl but also the whereabouts of the thing that the monk is trying to lead Jack to find. And because the narrative confirms the verity of these paranormal happenings, other elements of the story are thrown into question. Did the “old gods” and the tribute they’re due actually play a part in what happened, for example?

It’s not that I dislike stories about the supernatural; it’s that it’s really bizarre when the supernatural suddenly shows up in the seventh book of a series about Scotland Yard detectives. It also bothered me that the one character who’s a skeptic about all of this is a flagrant asshole who eventually comes unhinged. In addition, I dearly hope that the paternity of a particular child was supposed to be glaringly obvious to the reader, because it sure was. Too, the conclusion is muddled, and the final line was so incredibly cheesy that I actually said, “Barf!” out loud.

All in all, this was profoundly disappointing and I hope it doesn’t signify a new trend for the series.

justice_noneAnd Justice There Is None
It is with profound relief that I proclaim that I really, really liked this one! There are absolutely no supernatural elements whatsoever, thankfully, and the investigation itself is a change of pace, too. Instead of being dispatched to some bucolic locale on Scotland Yard business, a murder is committed in Notting Hill, where Gemma is now assigned as a Detective Inspector. Moreover, she and Duncan and their respective sons move into a house nearby, which puts her family in proximity to the crime and, ultimately, the culprit.

The case involves the wife of a well-off antiques dealer who recently discovered she was pregnant by her lover. Duncan recalls a similar killing that took place a month prior, so he and Gemma work together on the case. Interspersed throughout is the story of “Angel,” a young woman who is orphaned in the mid-sixties and finds herself swept up in the London drug scene. All of the pieces eventually come together, and even though there’s one clue that lets readers know who the murderer is before Gemma has figured it out, she doesn’t end up seeming slow on the uptake. Rather, it adds an extra layer of menace when the perpetrator just happens to be strolling past their new house and has a chat with Kit (Duncan’s son).

And oh, what a house. I love that Gemma and Duncan are establishing their own family, especially given the new addition on the way. I love, too, that the pets are 100% accounted for, and that Gemma adopts a sweet new dog. Best of all, though, is that it’s Christmas. Duncan’s present to Gemma makes both her and me verklempt. I also liked seeing Gemma and Duncan working with other people, and hope that some of the nice people she encountered in the neighborhood make appearances in future books.

Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James, Books 1-4 by Deborah Crombie

Like Elizabeth George, Deborah Crombie is an American writing about Scotland Yard detectives in England. Her works come recommended by a friend who knows and shares my taste in mysteries, and now that I’ve been overtaken by a powerful urge for a mystery binge, I am finally checking them out. There are presently sixteen books in the series; I plan to tackle them in four installments.

share_in_deathA Share in Death
Newly promoted Detective Superintendent Duncan Kincaid is in Yorkshire on holiday, taking his cousin’s place at a timeshare for a week. He intends to keep his profession a secret from his fellow guests, but when he discovers the body of an employee floating in the pool, he can no longer maintain his anonymity. And, despite his attempts to convince himself that it isn’t his case, he also cannot resist getting involved with the investigation.

In some ways, A Share in Death is a traditional British cozy mystery. Kincaid’s not an amateur, as many sleuths tend to be in those sorts of mysteries, but the action does take place in a small village and involves a finite cast of suspects, some of whom have preexisting relationships. Crombie has a way with physical descriptions that is admirable—she doesn’t expend excess words in the act, but yet I somehow came away with a distinct picture of each individual guest—and between this and the cozy feel, the experience of reading this book was rather like watching my own mental PBS mystery program!

It’s not a perfect book—one secret held by a guest was not difficult to work out, and I’m not entirely sure that everything about the resolution makes perfect sense—but it was still on the whole very enjoyable. Engaging and not intellectually demanding, it managed not to come across as fluffy or trivialize the act of murder. I very much look forward to continuing with this series, and especially hope to see more of Kincaid and his capable Sergeant, Gemma James, working together (as opposed to separated by distance, as they were here).

all_shall_be_wellAll Shall Be Well
Like the first book in the series, All Shall Be Well involves a murder that has taken place in close proximity to Duncan Kincaid. This time it’s his cancer-stricken friend and neighbor, Jasmine Dent, whose death might’ve been assumed to be natural had not Duncan been suspicious and ordered a postmortem, discovering that Jasmine died of an overdose of morphine. Suicide is a possibility, but certain details prevent Duncan from accepting that conclusion.

Again, there is a short list of suspects, with the strongest suspicion resting upon the douchebag boyfriend of the former coworker to whom Jasmine has left the bulk of her estate. And yet, the end result doesn’t feel as typically cozy as A Share in Death because Duncan’s investigation takes him far and wide in search of clues. Happily, there is also much more interaction with Gemma in this book. (I especially liked that Duncan made a point of comparing her to the aforementioned coworker and how the latter inspired parental feelings but the former certainly did not.) There is also a very positive outcome regarding Jasmine’s kitty about whom I worried for the entire book.

I am really enjoying this series so far, and looking forward to the third book, in which Duncan seems to shed his Jessica Fletcher murder-magnet ways and is actually assigned a case!

leave_grave_greenLeave the Grave Green
Okay, Leave the Grave Green is definitely my favorite of the series so far. Instead of a murder happening in Duncan’s vicinity, this time he and Gemma are assigned to the case of Connor Swan, an apparent drowning victim who also had handprints on his throat. He is the son-in-law of a famous and influential couple in the opera scene, thus Scotland Yard’s involvement.

I thought it was interesting that there was essentially no physical evidence to consider, with the autopsy being inconclusive about what exactly happened, so the case was more-or-less solved by talking to the same half dozen or so characters, over and over, with each revealing things they had neglected to mention in previous conversations until finally, Duncan works out what must have happened. It’s not as tidy of a conclusion as they could wish from a prosecutorial standpoint, but it’s satisfying enough for readers.

There was one instance where a clue about a particular family link was a little too obvious, but ultimately, I did not peg the likely culprit. I also appreciated spending more time with Duncan and Gemma’s partnership, complete with a burgeoning physical attraction that culminates in something that they have fascinatingly contrary reactions to afterwards. And, lastly, I didn’t even dare to hope that we’d get a kitty update, but not only did we, but Crombie also kindly told us who was looking after him while Duncan was away on the case. This degree of solicitude made me suspect Crombie must have cats herself and, verily, her bio confirms it.

mourn_not_deadMourn Not Your Dead
I begin to wonder whether I will declare with each successive book, “Okay, this one is my favorite now.”

Mourn Not Your Dead picks up a few days after the conclusion of Leave the Grave Green. Gemma has been avoiding Duncan, but must come into work when they are assigned to the case of a high-ranking police officer found bludgeoned to death in his home. In retrospect, the case itself isn’t terribly fascinating or twisty, but there’s a remarkably solid and memorable cast of suspects and locals, and the undercurrents between Gemma and Duncan make this quite a riveting read.

They are envisioning wildly different outcomes, and Duncan is hurt and baffled when Gemma calls what happened between them “a dreadful mistake.” I loved that he hadn’t even considered how she might worry about and wish to prioritize her career, and I loved too that he told her she had no need to apologize for what she felt or didn’t feel. It was a nice way of showing that he’s got some flaws, but also deeply respects Gemma’s agency. I also really enjoyed the way they gradually regained some equilibrium and how the case helped put some things in perspective.

I love mysteries where the leads are just as interesting as the cases, and this is definitely such a series. Onward, ho!