No Mark Upon Her by Deborah Crombie

The story, the fourteenth in the series that Deborah Crombie has spun around Detective Superintendent Duncan Kincaid and Detective Inspector Gemma James, opens with a compelling piece of writing:

“Heart thumping, she moved across the cottage’s shadowy garden and through the gate that led out onto the Thames Path. Tendrils of mist were beginning to rise from the water. The river had a particular smell in the evenings, damp and alive and somehow primeval. The gunmetal surface of the water looked placid as a pond, but she knew that for an illusion. The current, swift here as the river made its way towards the roar of the weir below Hambleden Mill, was a treacherous trap for the unwary or the overconfident ….”

Rebecca Meredith worked the Metropolitan Police, and she had risen to the rank of Detective Chief Inspector, but she was ready to take a career break. Because her first love had been rowing; she was going to go back to that, and she was going to do everything she could to reach the Olympics. That was why she went out, alone, to train on the river in Henley on a dark afternoon in late October.

Rebecca didn’t come back. And when the Search & Rescue Team found her body it was clear that there had been foul play.

no Mark Upon herDuncan Kincaid had been on annual leave, after his and Gemma’s wedding, but he was sent in to lead the investigation. Because Scotland Yard wanted one of their own. A safe paid of hands.

Becca’s ex husband is the most obvious suspect. And he word of elite rowing is ferociously competitive. But Duncan learns from Becca’s colleagues that she had, in private, made serious allegations against a very senior police officer; and that she had been ready to make those allegations public.

He found himself being steered in a particular direction, but he resisted.

A well though out and well structured plot unfolds steadily as the police meet the team Becca worked with, the people at her rowing club, the people who might know more about the allegations she had been ready to make public. The characters were well drawn, and the possibilities were intriguing.

Duncan and Gemma used to work together, but as their relationship grew their professional lives separated. But Deborah Crombie has very cleverly continued to draw them both into the same cases. This time around Gemma had come into contact with the man who was the subject of Becca’s allegations. And her own experience left her in no doubt that the allegations were true. She was still on annual leave, but she had a friend and former colleague who might be in a position to help Duncan make his case.

Deborah Crombie follow Duncan’s and Gemma’s lives – not just their work – and a cast of family, friends and colleagues continues to be drawn into the story. That works well, everything fitted together beautifully, and I liked remembering just how people had been drawn in and just how Duncan and Gemma had reached this point in their lives.

I still think you could pick up this book and read happily of you hadn’t read the rest of the series; just enough is explained for everything to make sense. Though I suspect you’d want to go back and find out more from those earlier books after this finish this one.

I had a few small issues with this book. There was a little too much domesticity. There were moments when Duncan’s reactions seemed a little naïve for a man with his experience. But, overall, I liked it very much.

I’d call it a classic mystery, and a fine human story.

It was very readable, I loved reading about the rowing world and life on the river, and I am so impressed at how this series has, and continues to grow.

There was a wonderful point in the story, near the end, when it shifted. What might have been the ending was actually a turning point.

The real ending was nicely dramatic, and though the resolution was mundane it was utterly believable.

I see that book sixteen will be published later in the autumn, so I really must catch up with book fifteen ….

Crime Fiction: The A to Z

When I set out on Kerrie’s Crime Fiction Alphabet I promised myself two things.

The first was that I would read nothing just for the sake of filling a slot, that I would only read books that I would have picked up sooner or later anyway.

I’ve managed that, though I did have to bend the rules a little for the difficult letter X and I had to throw in an emergency short story when the book I’d picked for letter Y let me down.

The second was that I would mix things up, and choose some familiar and some less familiar books.

And so my list is made up of:

  • Persephone books for H and X, and a classic short story by a Persephone author for G.
  •  A Virago Modern Classic, and a winner of the CWA Gold Dagger to boot,  for K.
  •  A wonderful anthology of new writers at W.
  •  Victorian crime for S and Victoriana for U. I would have liked to read more of both, but I ran out of time and letters.
  •  Crime fiction in translation at L and V.
  •  A Cornish book, set in very familiar countryside, at B.
  •  Agatha Christie re-reads at A and F. A for Agatha seemed to be the perfect place to start, and once I had re-read one book a number of others called me.
  •  Neglected woman authors, who were published in numbered green Penguins, at E, M, P and R. If I have learned one thing through the alphabet, it is always to look carefully at green Penguins as there are some real gems there.
  •  Male authors from the middle of the last century, who aren’t as lauded as some but really should be, at I, N and Q.
  •  A lovely range of contemporary crime fiction at C, D, J, O, T and Z.
  •  And that excellent, emergency short story at Y.

Mission accomplished, I think!

Here’s the A to Z in full.

A is for Agatha The ABC Murders by Agatha Christie
B is for Bolitho Framed in Cornwall by Janie Bolitho
C is for Crombie Where Memories Lie by Deborah Crombie
D is for Darkside Darkside by Belinda Bauer
E is for Ethel The Wheel Spins by Ethel Lina White
F is for Five Five Little Pigs by Agatha Christie
G is for Glaspell A Jury of her Peers by Susan Glaspell (short story)
H is for Holding The Blank Wall by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding
I is for Innes Death at the President’s Lodging by Michael Innes
J is for Jane The Burning by Jane Casey
K is for Kelly The Spoilt Kill by Mary Kelly
L is for Läckberg
The Stone-Cutter by Camilla Läckberg
M is for Mary Death and the Pleasant Voices by Mary Fitt
N is for Not Not to be Taken by Anthony Berkley
O is for Other The Other Half Lives by Sophie Hannah
P is for Potts The Man with the Cane by Jean Potts
Q is for Question A Question of Proof by Nicholas Blake
R is for Roth Shadow of a Lady by Holly Roth
S is for Study A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan-Doyle
T is for Tyler The Herring in the Library (and others) by L C Tyler
U is for Unburied The Unburied by Charles Palliser
V is for Van der Vlugt Shadow Sister by Simone Van Der Vlugt
W is for Written Written in Blood: a Honno Anthology
X is for Expendable The Expendable Man by Dorothy B Hughes
Y is for You You are a Gongedip by Sophie Hannah (short story)
Z is for Zouradi The Messenger of Athens by Anne Zouroudi

And that really is the end of the alphabet.

So where does my crime fiction reading go now? Well, I have The Quarry by Johan Theorin, A Herring on the Nile by LC Tyler, Now You See Me by S J Bolton, and two books by Erin Kelly in my library pile. My own green Penguins and my Agatha Christie collection are calling too, Plus those authors I discovered, and rediscovered, along the way and want to read again. And recommendations I picked up from others along the way ….

No end of possibilities …

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 … ?