Thursday, March 31, 2011

Deborah Crombie's Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James Novels

I’ve set up this blog - mostly as a way to structure and plan comments on things I read and do - and then spent the next few days staring at it and wondering where to begin. Because the truth is, I read a lot. I gobble down books and stories like other people drink water, and if there were a support group for compulsive readers anonymous, I’d probably feel compelled to join.

In the end, I simply decided to look at my bookshelves, slowly make my way through them, and worry about organizing the site when there is actually something there to organize. I imagine I’ll need a category for books, probably divided into fantasy, crime, historical, romance and more serious literature, another for fanfiction, one for cinema and art. But for now, on to my first book review: Deborah Crombie’s Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James series.

There are 13 books in the series so far, started in the early 1990’s with A Share in Death. The author gives us more or less a book a year, as seems to be the norm with these crime series. Each book stands well on its own, with a death, investigation and unmasking of the culprit at the end – seems pretty straight forward, right?

And it is, as far as that goes. With the exception of one volume, A Finer End, all the books are classical examples of the British crime novel (no matter that they are written by an American author!). And even if that were all, I wouldn’t complain – they are well thought out, well written, and Deborah Crombie gets better with each book she writes. But there is more to the series than simple sleuthing, each story, each character, is well developed, his or her background explored, actions, reactions, everything is explained in detail.

There are many flashbacks in the series, and while reading they can sometimes be off-putting (since they break the rhythm of the book), but this shows the depth of the characters and the thought that went into their creation. This is the one aspect I am sometimes ambivalent about, but even while annoyed to have a cliffhanger prolonged while I muddle through a dozen pages of back-story, I can’t deny the fact that it is always information that enriches the plot.

And then there are our two detectives – and they are a delight. I loved the way their personal relationship developed together with the series, and how everything isn’t just sunshine and roses. Seeing them face those fictional challenges brings out their humanity, and is one more example of that care about character development I mentioned earlier. They are each complete individuals in their own right – very tridimensional, with strengths and weaknesses that can complement or strain the relationship. Gemma’s empathy, Duncan’s difficulties in always grasping this aspect of her personality, all of it adds to the reading experience.

One can’t help comparing this series with Elizabeth George’s Inspector Lynley (male/female detective couple, Scotland Yard, Murder investigations) – and I do believe they fall squarely in the same genre, even if the style of writing is completely different. I enjoy both series, even though I only just discovered George and I’ve been reading Crombie for years. They both have engaging central characters, but I think there might be a depth, or maybe a drama in Lynley that is not present in the other series. The themes that E.G. chooses for her novels are much darker, and the way she delves into the psyche of her characters reflects that – there is more suffering, more pain, more despair.

Deborah Crombie manages to infuse a certain lightness in every volume – whether in the description of acts of human kindness, or simply in the affection between her central characters and their imminently healthy family life.

So, highly recommended, a real pleasure to read! My favourite volume is, I think, Dreaming of the Bones, one of the more complex plots of the series, but I also loved Mourn not Your Dead, And Justice There is None, and more recently, Water Like a Stone.

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