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Crombie's "The Sound of Broken Glass"

July 18, 2013 - Jodelle Greiner
Deborah Crombie has done it again.

“The Sound of Broken Glass”, the fifteenth novel in the Kincaid/James British detective series, is classic Crombie.

Detective Inspector Gemma James is rising in the ranks of the London police and she’s caught a brutal murder case: a man is found strangled at a seedy hotel in Crystal Palace, but what makes this one bad is he was found naked and bound, apparently in the middle of something kinky. The scene isn’t even cold when Gemma figures out Vincent Arnott was a barrister, meaning she and her team will have to deal with the legal community and the shock of one of society’s standard-bearers being caught with his pants down.

The trail soon leads to a young guitarist, with whom Arnott had an altercation the night he died. Andy Monahan grew up in Crystal Palace, which in spite of its pretty name, is not a pretty place. Andy’s had a rough time, but he’s on the verge of the biggest break of his life: an audition with a young girl singer, Poppy Jones. Together they have what it takes to be the next musical sensation and being investigated for murder could derail Andy’s bright future.

As she aligns the pieces, Gemma finds too many coincidences, and that means it’s no coincidence. She turns to Duncan Kincaid, a detective superintendent with Scotland Yard who’s taking time off for family reasons, and asks him to make some inquiries off the record. As the case deepens and affects numerous people Gemma and Duncan know, it could change many people’s lives.

I always grab Crombie’s novels as soon as I can get them. She’s very clever with spinning the mystery, but just reading her prose is a delight in itself. Crombie is a native Texan who travels to England a few times a year to research her mystery novels, so there’s a lot of authenticity. Stuff you’re sure she must have made up turns out to be true, whether it’s names or historical information. I really like that, those touches lend so much more to the reading experience.

One of the series’ hallmarks, and something Crombie does really well, is take the reader back in time — sometimes decades, sometimes just a few years — and shows how actions then influence the case Gemma and Duncan are working in the present.

Although Gemma and Duncan deal with murder victims — and some, like Arnott, are found in sketchy circumstances — there’s a minimum of blood and gore in these novels. Even though they are police officers, they don’t usually carry guns, so there’s no shoot-outs like you often see on television. These cases are solved through footwork and sleuthing, and intricately reasoned. Crombie has a real talent for bringing the case all together, even though sometimes you wonder how she will accomplish that.

Another thing Crombie does well is populate her stories with finely-drawn characters, never cookie cutter or stereotyped. Some are endearingly eccentric — I like to think of them as ‘very British’ in their peculiarities — and all make the story run.

With Crombie, there are no unimportant details, and barely mentioned characters have a way of popping back up, so always pay close attention. Frankly, I thought I had whodunit all figured out, until pretty late in the book when she reached into her bag of tricks and surprised me.

That’s the mark of a good writer, when they can still keep you on your toes, even 15 books into a series.

Each novel is a complete story, but you will want to read them in order, since relationships between central characters do change over several years from the first novel “A Share in Death” to “The Sound of Broken Glass.”


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