Crime Fiction Alphabet: C is for Crombie

I didn’t know Deborah Crombie’s name when I spotted her first book in the library and I really can’t remember why I was drawn to it. But I’m glad I was – I liked that book, I liked the ones that followed, and now I have read a round dozen.

Where Memories Lie opens with Superintendent Duncan Kincaid and Detective Inspector Gemma James at home with their sons from former relationships, thirteen-year-old Kit and five-year-old Toby. Their relationship has evolved well over twelve books, always believable and always interesting, without ever falling into the trap for many long running series of having too much happen to the same characters.

Duncan and Gemma used to work together, but as their relationship grew their professional lives separated: now he works at Scotland Yard and Gemma in Notting Hill.

The telephone rings in the middle of a dinner party. Gemma’s friend, Erika asks her to come over to discuss an important matter. Gemma doesn’t hesitate because she knows that her friend is would only ask if it was something really important.

It is. Erika has spotted a diamond brooch, a unique piece of jewellery made by Erika’s father, a master jeweller, and given to his daughter before she and her husband fled Germany at the start of the war, in the catalogue of a prestigious London auction house. Erika will not say how she came to lose the brooch, but she asks Gemma to visit the auction house, to find out what she can.

Gemma agrees, but when she visits the auction house she is rebuffed.

But there is soon an official investigation at the auction house, as a young woman Gemma spoke to there is murdered. Scotland Yard is called in and Duncan requests the case.

A complex and well structures plot unfolds as links are made between Erika’s brooch, the murdered girl, a wealthy young man who has fallen into bad company, his haughty and disapproving mother, and an actor with a declining career who is not ready to let go of the high life.

The characters and their worlds are well constructed, and the mystery is intriguing.

Gemma also has to cope with her mother, a strong, independent and practical woman, being taken seriously ill and her father’s resentment of her success, which he sees as having taken her away from her roots, coming to the surface.

Again, characters and complex relationships are wonderfully portrayed, but oh how I wished this side of the story could have been given a little more time.

And there is another story, set in the past. The story of a police inspector who, in 1952, investigated the seemingly senseless murder of Erika’s husband in a London park.

The stories are well balanced, each strand compelling and emotionally true,  and though I couldn’t see how they would come together, when they did it made perfect sense.

Events came to a head in a dramatic – maybe over-dramatic – finale.  I had to question the murderer’s motivation to actually kill, but I couldn’t fault the logic or the plotting at all.

So not quite the perfect mystery, but still a fine piece of crime writing.

Overall the story was very well executed, and it had far more depth than most mysteries, skillfully showing how events long past can influence the present and showing just how much harm, greed, ambition, and pride can do.

Where Memories Lie works as a classic mystery,  it works as a story lives altered by a terrible chapter in history, and it works as a story of contemporary London.

I shall definitely seeking out book thirteen in the series, and hoping that there are many more installments to come.


The Crime Fiction Alphabet is hosted by Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise.

“Each week, beginning Monday 10 January 2011, you have to write a blog post about crime fiction related to the letter of the week …”

So next week, D is for … ?

7 responses

  1. Jane – Thanks for this reminder of Deborah Crombie. I think you’ve put your finger on one of the reasons the series is as strong as it is. The characters are real, and their relationships are genuine and, as you say, they’ve evolved over time. The things that they have to deal with are believable; enough happens to keep us interested but not so many things that it starts to seem like a teledrama. I like that about them.

  2. I’ve only read a few of the Crombie books, but they have been very good. I’ve got another on the TBR pile–A Finer End–that really sounds interesting. I just need to find a place for it in one of my challenges that I’ve signed up for!

  3. Hi Fleur, This sounds an interesting series. Do you have to start with the first book? I am reading Louise Penny’s series at the moment. Finding them the best crime ones I’ve read but reading Still Life first is a must.I must admit I’m new to reading mysteries which I have come to through reading blogs. These blogs have alot to answer for! My bookselves and piles are taking over.Too late for a N Y resolution Only read what I’ve got.!

  4. I really like Deborah Crombie. She’s one of my favourite mystery writers & I can’t wait for the next book in this series. The relationship between Duncan & Gemma is believable & always evolving, as you say, so the personal element is as intriguing as the mystery.

  5. One of my favorites, too! She is so successful in making the character story (Duncan and Gemma’s growing relationship) as interesting and important as the mystery.

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