I believe there are good books and not-so-good books in any genre. And if The Puppet Masters wasn’t proof that I’ll read just about any type of book, here’s another. Book #12 for 2013 is Where Memories Lie, the twelfth in the Duncan Kincaid-Gemma James mystery series from author Deborah Crombie.
I’m not a huge mystery fan like so many are, but I do enjoy a good one every now and then, old and new. I’ve been through almost all of Agatha Christie and all of Dorothy Sayers (love!) and Ngaio Marsh. I pretty much exclusively read female mystery writers (P.D. James is another one I like) because I enjoy the less hard-boiled (soft-boiled?) tone of a female writer. I also like mystery novels that fall more heavily on the “novel” end, so there has to be strong character development and solid narrative in addition to the mystery. In fact, the mystery can be the least of it if I like the characters and their arcs. I also like a little bit of romance (in all books, and movies, too). Elizabeth George used to meet my oh-so-demanding criteria before she completely lost her way a few books back (someone kidnapped her and locked her in a cellar and is writing the books using her name, if you ask me). Her first ten novels were just about perfect mysteries. I’m hoping she escapes from the cellar someday and restores a level of interest and excitement to her books again.
Deborah Crombie is another favorite, although, again, her books were better earlier on. Interesting characters, a lively romance, captivating mysteries—the books were downright charming.
I can’t say that’s the case for this one, although it was a good-enough read. Scotland Yard Superintendent Duncan Kincaid and Inspector Gemma James are back. Once a professional team, they now work separately. I don’t want to give too much away about their personal lives, since it forms so much of the story in earlier books in the series, and makes for great reading. In this book there is less focus on the two main characters and more on the somewhat convoluted mystery. It involves a Holocaust refugee, a long-missing diamond brooch, a fifty-year-old unsolved murder, a wealthy society matron and her ne’er-do-well son, and several recent homicides of people orbiting the jewels. There are flashbacks to the post-WW II era and a seeming suicide. Throw in Gemma’s mother’s cancer, her father’s disapproval, an auction house whistle blower, even a giant drooling hound, and you’ve got a mystery with far too many tentacles, and far too many of those not terribly interesting. Many of the problems seem contrived, even, in fact, the mystery itself. There’s enough plot here for three books, and Crombie might have been better off with less to do and more to say about it.
And, the most grievous sin: I had the murderer pegged halfway through the book. And I’m a lousy detective!
The final analysis? It’s just good enough that I’ll keep going with the series, ever hopeful that it will regain its footing and make me care again.
If you haven’t read one of Crombie’s books, start from number one: A Share in Death. And let me know what you think.