by Margaret S. Hamilton
by Margaret S. Hamilton
Deborah Crombie’s nineteenth book marks thirty years of her publishing Gemma James and Duncan Kincaid books. I’ve read them all—the last, A Bitter Feast, aboard a boat crossing Lake Nassar in Egypt in 2019. I devoured A Killing of Innocents sitting at my kitchen table in Cincinnati during bleak January days.
DS Duncan Kincaid and his team take the lead in this book, investigating two suspicious deaths, both stabbings, in the general area of Bloomsbury and Russell Square in London. Kincaid asks Gemma, his police-detective wife attached to special task force, for help.
The investigation resembles cyclists on a circular long-distance race track, pursuing lines of inquiry that don’t intersect, moving at a high but steady rate of speed. At last, a random name on a credit card statement pops up at a location of interest. The cyclists swoop around a curve, and converge in a single lane heading for the finish, closing in on the killer.
Crombie includes over thirty named characters and at least eight different points of view—Gemma and Duncan, Gemma’s sergeant, Melody Talbot, and Duncan’s team of investigators. Recurring characters include members of the Howard family, Erika Rosenthal, and Cousin Winnie.
Duncan and Gemma’s children play an important secondary role: Kit, Toby, and Charlotte, plus their assorted dogs and cats. Over the thirty-year span of the books, Kit has slowly matured into a teenager, Toby is now seven, and little Charlotte, whom they started fostering as a toddler in Necessary as Blood (2009), is now four.
Because I’m now writing the second in a traditional mystery series, I studied crucial components of A Killing of Innocents. The children are aging at glacial speed, a year older every five books. Gemma and Duncan still live in the same house in Notting Hill and frequent the same Portobello Road neighborhood. Because one or more of the investigators is always on the page, the pace of the investigation never slows. Different points of view are integrated seamlessly. Physical descriptions are precise; Crombie reveals them through the perspective of different characters.
Crombie comes up with a somewhat unique murder weapon and rationale for the killings. One of the victims has an unusual hobby or for-profit business—acquiring pairs of Staffordshire china dogs:
Some were chipped, or cracked and re-glued. The small faces had distinct personalities—even within a pair, there were minute differences. Most were King Charles spaniels, but at the end of one shelf Kincaid spied a pair of Dalmatians, rather crudely executed. (p.176)
London and its environs present endless opportunities for crime. Gemma and Duncan will continue to grapple with the demands of dual careers and parenting. Gemma’s sergeant, Melody, and Duncan’s sergeant, Doug, are maturing in their roles as police detectives. DS Jasmine Sidana becomes less prickly and more likeable in every book. One of my favorite secondary characters is Melody, who lives near Portobello Road. Her thoughts a week or two after Remembrance Sunday:
[Melody’s] spirits rose as she came out of High Street Kensington tube station into the Sunday bustle of the street. Across the way, the bells in the tower of St. Mary Abbott’s chimed one o’clock. The midday sun lit the Great War Memorial, still bedecked in fading poppy wreaths. The flower stall in the church forecourt was doing a brisk business, and Melody decided she’d treat herself to a bouquet of something bright on the way home, red tulips, perhaps. (p.197)
I don’t remember the titles of all of Crombie’s books, nor do I remember the locations or the crimes. But I remember most of her named characters. I think about them, and with each book, am relieved to learn that they have survived the Pandemic and are thriving.
My favorite in the series? No Mark Upon Her, about an Olympic rower. Crombie gets the details of rowing correct.
Readers, do you have a favorite Crombie book or enjoy reading books set in London? Writers, have you grappled with multiple point-of-view characters and over ten named characters?
Thirty years! I've read some of these books, and didn't realize how long they've been out there. I will be doing some hunting around and seeing if I haven't missed some. Always a pleasure to find "new to me" books by an author I enjoy.
I devoured this book as soon as it hit my Kindle. As always with a Crombie book, I tried to slow toward the end, knowing I would miss my London friends for a while after the last page evaporated.
As for the 30 years. That's amazing. I discovered these books in 2021 and read them all one after the other. I have to say, they do not show their age!
Such a good series. 30 years! I think it's time to go back and re-read. That's one of the good things about the years passing - I can go back and reread favorite old series and they'll surprise me anew!
Kathleen, Kait, and Shari, thanks for commenting.
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