The following book review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews by clicking on the Books category link on the right side bar.
Deborah Crombie celebrates a “sweet sixteen” with her latest book To Dwell In Darkness that has strong characters and an intense plot. Her style is evident as she engages readers in the crime solving storyline while allowing them to get to know the characters with scenes of their home lives that include children, dogs, and a litter of stray kittens.
There are two simultaneous plots that have married detectives Gemma James and Duncan Kincaid immersed in trying to solve. Gemma attempts to build a case against electronics shop clerk Dillon Underwood for kidnapping, raping and murdering 12-year-old Mercy Johnson. This secondary case takes a back seat to the case of Superintendent Duncan Kincaid, recently demoted and transferred to the London borough of Camden from Scotland Yard headquarters. Duncan’ new murder investigation team is called to a deadly bombing at historic St. Pancras Station by Detective Sergeant Melody Talbot, who witnesses the explosion. In this seeming act of domestic terrorism, a young man dies while setting off a bomb in the St. Pancras underground, leaving Duncan and his team attempting to discover his identity and motive. The victim was taking part in an organized protest, yet the other group members swear the young man only meant to set off a smoke bomb. Throughout the story, Crombie has the reader gathering the facts alongside Kincaid as he attempts to find every piece of the puzzle in this unexpected pattern. This includes the disappearance of a mysterious bystander who appears to be Ryan Marsh, an ex-cop gone underground.
Crombie commented to blackfive.net, “I got the idea from what happened at the end of the book No Mark Upon Her, when a couple of cops went off the rail. This is the first time I have written a continuing crime arc. I really wanted to tell the story of that corruption. It is shocking all the stuff that is going on there. The genesis for Ryan Marsh’s character came from something I read a couple of years ago about a true story of an underground British cop named Mark Kennedy. He infiltrated protest groups for three to five years. Afterwards he was disavowed by the Met and they outted him as well. He ended up losing his family and became suicidal. He is now living with his brother in the US. I want to show what happens to these officers. How the corrupt officers have so much to cover up and what lengths they will go to. In the next book Duncan will have to deal with this while Gemma will have her own crime to solve.”
A welcome tangent to the dark plots is the dilemma the Kincaid-James household is having over what to do with a cat and four newborn kittens they’ve found starving and freezing in a locked shed. The scenes involving the dogs and children’s reaction towards the kittens are a welcome relief to the intense and serious plot.
Crombie told blackfive.net that she writes animal segments because of her love for dogs and cats, noting: “Each of the dogs in my stories has a realistic basis. We have three German Shepherds at home, a ten year old, one that was two on 9/11, and an adopted puppy, Jasmine, which is why over the years I have different German Shepherds in my books. My husband always wanted German Shepherds ever since he was a little boy. Because Jasmine came to us from an abusive home where she was neglected, we have absolutely spoiled her rotten. As you can tell, we absolutely adore her. She is a pill and so sweet. Gemma’s dog is based on a Cocker Spaniel I had, who died of cancer about fifteen years ago. I wrote in Geordie as Gemma’s dog as a blue roan cocker spaniel, the dog of my heart, and my fantasy dog.”
She went on to say, “In this current book the dogs got short shrift. They usually get more face time. The scenes with the kittens are based on a realistic event that happened to my family. It was my happy based fantasy. We had a female cat that turned up on our doorstep and looked like the cat in the book, although she was not pregnant. She was the sweetest thing, but had not eaten for about a week and was all skin and bones. After taking her to our vet to get checked out we found out she was micro chipped. So they were able to contact the owner. After the lady took the cat back, a couple of weeks later, the cat was run over and killed in the street. What the children in the book said about the owner was me writing out my grudge toward the real owner.”
Whether discussing the interaction between the dogs and kittens or between the characters themselves a strong thread throughout the book is the relationship amongst them. Readers are able to identify and relate with the characters either in their personal lives, while solving the crime, or understanding the grief the families must go through when a loved one is killed.
Crombie believes, “The reader should know everything the detectives know. When I read a mystery I feel cheated if someone comes out of the woodwork. I also want them to be able to identify with the characters. These are really books about relationships with a crime thrown in. The crimes emphasize the crucial decisions made, including between the good and bad characters. Even if the books do not have happy endings justice has to be served. The bad guys should get their comeuppance. A lot of my books deal with grief. If you are writing crime novels that are any way realistic you have to. I am always very interested in how people handle grief. Do they get angry, suffer quietly, and what are their coping mechanisms. How do they face that unexpected tragedy?”
To Dwell In Darkness has very riveting storylines that deal with resolving the tragedy of murder. The plots and characters are authentic and believable. Crombie leaves the reader yearning for the next book hoping to get answers including the mystery behind Marsh and the backstory on Duncan’s demotion as well as his new partner.