The Sound of Broken Glass, Deborah Crombie
Two weeks ago, I got to go to the launch party for Deborah Crombie's new book, held at my beloved Murder by the Book here in Houston. It was exciting! We don't get many launch parties in Houston - this was my first. I've had the pleasure of meeting Deborah Crombie at other signings, and she is always so gracious, entertaining, and funny. Since the book was just released that day, she was very careful in what she said about it, to avoid any spoilers. I imagine later audiences, who have had a chance to read the book, might have something to say about the incredible cliff-hanger that she springs on us in literally the last line of the book. Even though that line comes in the middle of the page, followed by half a page of blank space, I couldn't help turning the page, just in case there was some coda, some afterword, some resolution.
And then I remembered Deborah Crombie telling us that she has just signed a new contract, under which the publication of the next book will be pushed back further into next year. There was a distinct murmur of disappointment from the audience at that news, greedy readers that we are. But I think it would have been a lot more vehement had we realized what is left unanswered in this one.
The Sound of Broken Glass is the 15th book in her series featuring London police officers Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James. When the series started, Duncan was a newly-minted Detective Superintendent at Scotland Yard and Gemma his sergeant. Their professional relationship slipped over the line into a personal one, which they had to keep hidden until Gemma earned a promotion and transfer to the Metropolitan Police. They are now married, with a blended family, each having brought a son from previous relationships, and together they are fostering a little girl, orphaned in an earlier case they worked. They have extended family and friends who move through their lives, and sometimes their cases. There are also work colleagues, like Duncan's sergeant Doug and Gemma's Melody, who have become part of their family.
I always enjoy the mysteries in these books, which are well-written, carefully-plotted and crafty. They play out partly as police procedurals. In the later books, after Gemma left the Yard, she and Duncan rarely work cases together, at least not officially. But if the case is Gemma's, then Duncan usually finds his way into it, and vice versa. In this new book, Duncan has been on family leave, caring for their foster daughter. When her earlier turn ended, Gemma accepted a promotion and transfer to a murder team in South London. Here she is investigating the death of a barrister, found naked and hog-tied in a seedy hotel in Crystal Palace. Setting out to discover how he ended up there, she and Melody discover a connection with a local musician, who played a gig at a nearby pub the night of the murder. Andy, the guitarist, was a witness in one of Duncan's previous cases, which gives him an opening into the case (and a break from child-minding).
I was interested in the setting for this book. Of course I was familiar with the historic Crystal Palace, but not with its namesake area of South London, where much of the action takes place. Previous books have been set in Cheshire and Yorkshire, Glastonbury and Henley, and the Scottish Highlands, as well as the Isle of Dogs and Southwark in London. The American editions include wonderful illustrated maps by Laura Hartman Maestro that help bring the settings to life.
Even more than the plots and the settings, it is the characters who draw me back to these books. A new book does feel like meeting old friends again, particularly Duncan and Gemma. From the start, they made a good team, and I've enjoyed watching their relationship develop over the course of the series. It's because Deborah Crombie has made me care about these people over the course of fifteen books that the last line of this one left me so gobsmacked. And when the TBR challenge is over, I think I'll be reading through the series again.