Of crime and the river

Ah, happiness. Hardly had I finished listening to Elizabeth George’s latest as an audio book when I started reading Deborah Crombie’s new mystery novel starring Scotland Yard’s Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James.

Inevitably, because they are both women writers who live in America and write British police mystery/suspense fiction, George and Crombie are often compared.

I think it’s fair to say that if you like Elizabeth George’s books, you’ll also enjoy Deborah Crombie’s. If you like both of them, you probably also will enjoy the works of P.D. James and Barbara Vine. That’s not to say these four authors are clones of one another, but rather that they all write thoughtful, psychologically complex mysteries with fully developed, believable characters and wonderfully atmospheric contemporary British settings. That George and Crombie do so despite having grown up in the States and spending at least half their time on this side of the pond is an interesting coincidence, but not something that makes their works noticeably different from those of their British counterparts.  Even reviewers in England give both of them high marks for their authentic rendering of the details of today’s evolving British society.

There are many points upon which one could contrast the works of George and Crombie, starting with the former’s tendency to write longer books, and the fact that George’s Inspector Lynley is also Lord Asherton, while Crombie’s Kincaid is not of the nobility. But let’s leave such comparisons to those on college English faculties. I’m too busy enjoying the fine books written by both authors.

By Linda Brinson

NO MARK UPON HER. By Deborah Crombie. William Morrow. 369 pages. $25.99.

Rebecca Meredith was a skilled rower. Working out determinedly and regularly on the Thames, she was hoping for the chance in the Olympics that she’d missed out on earlier because of an injury. She was older than most of the Olympic hopefuls, and she was working out on her own, not as a part of a team. In the cutthroat world of competitive racing, there were those who resented her attempt to win a place in the games.

Rebecca Meredith was also a high-level police detective, so when she’s found dead, tangled in debris at the edge of the Thames near her home and near the famous rowing club where she kept her boat, Scotland Yard gets involved.

Duncan Kincaid is ordered in, even though he’s supposed to be about to take leave. It’s his turn to stay home for a while as he and his new wife, Gemma James, struggle with domestic challenges. Kincaid and James became romantically involved many books ago, when she worked for him.  As their relationship progressed, she left his team and became a detective inspector herself. Now, they’ve finally made their shared lives a legal reality, and they’re doing their best to deal with the children in their care – her son from a previous marriage; his son, whom he only recently discovered; and an emotionally fragile little girl they took in after her parents were murdered. In other words, they have a thoroughly modern blended family, the dynamics of which help to enrich these novels.

Duncan soon learns that the Rebecca Meredith case is a greater problem to him than just its impact on his family responsibilities. First, he becomes convinced that her death was no simple accident. Then, when he discovers that there had been trouble between Meredith and Angus Craig, a high-ranking police official, he wonders why he wasn’t given this information from the beginning. The deeper he probes, the more uneasy he grows about what seems to be pressure for him to charge Meredith’s former husband in her death. Certainly, his superiors would be happier if he did so – who needs a police scandal? But Duncan is too good a police officer to accept anything less than the truth, even if the truth might harm his career – or himself or his family.

His determination to get to the heart of the matter grows even stronger when he learns that Gemma also had some history with Craig. And things get more complicated – and more dangerous – as an investigation Gemma is working seems to intersect with Duncan’s case.

This book has all that fans of Deborah Crombie have come to expect – suspense, evocative details, and strong characters who take time amid the pressures of the moment to ponder life’s important questions of right and wrong, duty and honor, truth and justice. The investigation into the complex life of the victim, Rebecca Meredith, introduces the reader to more intriguing characters and opens up the fascinating world of competitive rowing.

Whether you’ve followed Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James throughout their interesting careers and domestic lives or you’re meeting them for the first time, savor No Mark Upon Her. Like the River Thames, it has surprising depths and hidden dangers under its smooth surface.

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