Deborah Crombie’s In a Dark House is a continuation of the Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James series that succeeds on at least three levels.
First, having set the novel in England, Crombie skillfully develops the historic and contemporary meaning of Southwark in such a manner that the American reader who is not familiar with the English countryside can see it in their mind’s eye. Everything from the architectural details, the anomalies of language, and the anecdotes of days gone by provide a rich and believable backdrop to a setting that informs while avoiding drowning the reader in meaningless detail. Second, the intertwining plots require all the characters to run into each other as they struggle to solve their individual mysteries. Though nuanced, the questions at the story’s center differentiate themselves so well and Crombie so conscientiously wraps up each of the plots that the reader is anxious to savor the final pages.
Lastly, Crombie excels with her characters, showing a rich diversity in each character, as well as, between them; but what most interested this reviewer was how the authoress was able to show how well or how poorly the characters were able to respond to the difficulties life threw at them. Another aspect that made this book memorable was the manner in which the characters responded to each other in the light of the difficulties faced by themselves or by the people, they were dealing with.
This is Crombie’s 10th book starring Scotland Yard Detective Superintendent Duncan Kincaid and his lover/partner Detective Inspector Gemma James. In this episode the duo are faced with the case of a serial arsonist who is suspected of escalating to murder when a nude, charred female corpse is discovered among the remains of a burned warehouse. With no clue as to whom the dead woman was, Duncan and Gemma find themselves embroiled in an investigation that involves everything from the disappearance of ten-year-old Harriet Novak (a pawn in her parent’s acrimonious divorce), her mother Laura, and three other missing females all from the local area.
The author also takes the opportunity to introduce us to Rose Kearny, a young, eager firefighter who stumbled upon the burned corpse while working the fire and eventually comes up with a theory that explains the arsonist’s unusual motive. Given her introduction, this reviewer wonders if we will not be enjoying additional visits from her in Crombie’s future offerings.
However, the book does not concentrate solely on the fire, using it only as a springboard to a connect the dots puzzle as fire investigators and police officials race against time to untangle all the clues and find the imperiled Harriet before she too becomes a statistic of a psychopathic killer.
This is a fine English style murder mystery, that begins by taking the reader on a kaleidoscope journey filled with swirling colors and shapes that finally settle into a recognizable pattern as Crombie propels the reader to a somewhat satisfied ending that leaves them eagerly anticipating the next foray into the lives of Kincaid and James. So while in lesser hands, this novel might have degenerated into a confusing and melodramatic jigsaw puzzle with too many pieces Crombie masterfully delineates each character clearly and succinctly, as she weaves the various plot threads together with a sure and deft touch.
[tags]book review, book report, fiction, English literary style, In a Dark House, Deborah Crombie, Duncan Kincaid, Gemma James, Southwark, England, arson, murder, kidnapping, suspense, mystery [/tags]