Thursday, March 02, 2017

What we're reading: The next mystery in a series

Deborah Crombie's mystery series set in present-day London and featuring Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James is in my top five favorites. The mysteries themselves are smart and intriguing, the protagonists are likewise, and the chaotic family life that has evolved between these two detectives, formerly of Scotland Yard and now working out of different stations, coping with their stepchildren and their own child and their foster child and their dogs and cats and colleagues and friends, is immensely satisfying (although sometimes a bit difficult) to follow.

Garden of Lamentations is Crombie's 17th offering in this saga, and was consistently good, as usual. I did feel like I was at a disadvantage because it had been so long since I had read the previous book--and indeed it was a long while this time between books, since #16, To Dwell in Darkness, came out in the fall of 2014. Her usual writing span is between one and two years, so to go almost two and a half without another novel was a hardship for her fans, particular in this instance, because one of the two mysteries in this book was a story arc that carried over from the previous two volumes. I have read so many other books in the interim that it was hard for me to recall the details I should dredge up in order to understand all the present-day action.

I didn't have time, however, to go back and reread those two, so I soldiered through, and eventually figured most of it out. The three-book arc involved Duncan and explained why his former boss, Denis Childs, had abruptly left the force and in the process had transferred Duncan away from Scotland Yard into another command with no explanation or warning. The hints of corruption in the police force in the previous two books come to a head in this one and are mostly resolved by the end, although as usual Crombie cleverly leaves a few loose strands to ensnare you into reading the next!

The mystery in which Gemma is involved is a "stand-alone," so is much more easily followed. It's something of a "locked-room" mystery: A young woman is discovered, dead, inside a garden with high walls, to whom only two people have a gate key; all other access to the garden is through the houses that sit on its perimeter, so it would seem to indicate that someone in one of those houses must know what happened, or even be directly involved in the death. The girl was nanny to one family and friends with members of several others, and although the initial finding of the police is possible suicide by overdose, that theory doesn't pan out. So Gemma and her colleagues are left with little to go on and many suspects.

I always enjoy the many details Crombie shares about London life, this time in Notting Hill, site of the murder: She describes the pubs and tea shops and street markets and businesses so well you can picture them vividly. The story was pretty tightly plotted, suspenseful, and satisfying as to the interpersonal details, although there was some previously unknown disharmony between the two leads that one hopes will be resolved now that most of the Met's issues have been allayed and Duncan is communicating with Gemma again.

And now...only two more years to wait for #18. Perhaps it's time to go back to the first and reread them all?


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