on October 6, 2009
A young woman named Sandra Gilles leaves her child with a friend in London's colorful East End and promptly disappears. Then her husband, a Pakistani lawyer, is murdered. This is a particularly disturbing case for Insp. Gemma James of the Notting Hill C.D. and her partner, Supt. Duncan Kincaid of Scotland Yard. As they wade through a morass of evidence, conflicting stories, twisted motives, prejudice, and greed, they are ever more determined to protect the little girl at the center of the mystery.
This is the 13th entry in one of my all-time favorite British crime series. I read the first "Duncan-and-Gemma," A Share in Death (Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James Novels), when it was published in 1993, and every book since then has been a joy. Crombie gives us solid mystery stories along with the ever-growing (and ever more complicated) relationship between her two detectives and their children. NECESSARY AS BLOOD is British mystery at its best--by an author who happens to be American. If you love P. D. James, Ruth Rendell, Peter Robinson, Reginald Hill, Martha Grimes, and Elizabeth George, you'll love Deborah Crombie. Highly recommended.
In a year when "the new Laurie King" was a total cheat and "the new Margaret Maron" was barely there and "the new Sara Paretsky" was merely good, it's blissful to fall into the new Deborah Crombie. Crombie's characters - on-going and new - are vivid yet believable, while her ability to weave setting into plot just gets better and better.
Less dark than Ruth Rendell and more plot-driven than PD James, Crombie is that rare writer who can keep a series going without resorting to massive trauma in the lives of her main characters as a selling point. Crombie's Gemma James is now the primary character in the novel, and that's a very good thing. Although the series sometimes moves away from London, the metropolitan novels are my favorites. This time we get the Brick Lane Bangla-Angla community, the social services system, fabric art, and the whole question of what it means to be a Brit in the third millennium. Crombie makes excellent use of the epigraph, heading her chapters with quotes from an impressive East End bibliography. I always learn interesting stuff (a technical term there, sorry) when I read -- or reread -- one of her novels.
Only Donna Leon can rival Crombie at the art of making setting, plot, theme, and the personal lives of her main characters function as elegant parts of a perfect construction: the really good read.
I tried to read slow so it would last longer, but . . . .
Julia Walker's review of this book is spot on and I totally endorse everything she has to say. I just want to add a couple of things.
1. Because the Crombie series, like Donna Leon's equally brilliant Brunetti series, is so character driven, I strongly recommend reading the books in chronological order. Then, by the time you get to this one, the 13th in the series, your involvement with Gemma, Duncan, their families, friends, colleagues and how their personal histories have evolved will be firmly in place, greatly adding to the many pleasures you'll find here. Here's the list, in order, updated December, 2014: "A Share in Death," "All Shall Be Well," "Leave the Grave Green," "Mourn Not Your Dead," "Dreaming of the Bones," "Kissed a Sad Goodbye," "A Finer End," "And Justice There Is None," "Now May You Weep," "In a Dark House," "Water Like a Stone," "Where Memories Lie," "Necessary as Blood," "No Mark Upon Her," "The Sound of Broken Glass," "To Dwell in Darkness."
2. This second comment is a bit off topic and relates to the atmospheric chapter header quotes that Walker mentions. Several are from Dennis Severs's book about his Spitalfields house at 18 Fogate Street. During my first trip to London in 1982 I spent an evening at one of Severs's otherworldly candlelight tours of his house and it remains one of my most memorable travel experiences; "Necessary as Blood" brought it all back for me. Any fans of this book enchanted with Crombie's portraits of today's East End and thinking of including it on an upcoming London visit should check out dennissevershouse online. Severs is no longer with us, but his house and its magical time capsule tours continue on Monday evenings, advance bookings required. For present day atmosphere, I recommend the marvelous 2007 indie movie "Brick Lane."
on September 25, 2011
I love a series, literally I will watch or read anything in the form of a series. However I have read 13 books and I have come to realize that I don't really like this series. There was something I must have looked forward to at the end of each prior book: That's what we like about a seires, right? The charactor's more than each individual book plot?
I like Duncun Kincade as a charactor more than Gemma James. Since they have become a couple, their story line is reduced to dinner for the boys and what the dogs are doing.
Duncan seems to put up with Gemma butting into all of his cases. Seriously how often can she get away with investigating NONE of her own cases? Actually Duncan seems to put up with several short comings regarding Gemma. Including her inability to not become a sweaty mess with fly away hair and the wrong choice of shoes in every chapter. Really, is it often that hot in London? Really? That hot? That often? And no air conditioning? Anywhere? My point which is, admittedly hard to find, is that Duncan was a better main charactor and I am not sure when everything switched to Gemma's perspective. The first time I read Deborah Crombie was "Dreaming of the Bones" (which I enjoyed). Since that time I have gone back and read the books in order. I miss that Duncan Kincade.
Back to my point, Gemma is very annoying in this book. She puts every responsiblity in her life on hold in order to investigate a murder (not on her patch) and gather "dirt" on an orphan's remaining relatives. Gemma neglects her mother, her son, her significant other, Kit, and her beloved dog. Everyone and everything is neglected to focus on attempting to gather information to stop a toddler from being placed with a relative, which is also not her job and makes social services look lazy and very easy to "trick". I have not read the next book, but I am willing to bet there is a new member in the Kincade/James house hold......
My long winded point? I didn't like this book. I may have been slow on the uptake, as looking back it seems that I have not enjoyed the books since Gemma moved to the Notting Hill Station.
It's hard for a mystery novelist to sustain a long-running series with the same set of detectives. In some cases, I end up wondering just how many bodies some communities generate over the year; in other cases, the author himself or herself seems to be wearying of their task, and end up delivering predictable and ho-hum books. A few successfully develop new characters (Natasha Cooper has already done this once, the writing team of Charles Todd seems to be trying to do the same.)
Then there's Deborah Crombie, whose 13th offering in the series of police procedurals featuring Duncan Kincaid and his fiancee and fellow police officer Gemma James is one of her best yet. There are no fictional pyrotechnics, homicidal lunatics, no piling up of corpses at every turn -- there isn't even really a vast global conspiracy theory. There are just a collection of fallible and sometimes malicious or callous individuals, whose actions or inactions have consequences for all around them.
In this particular character-driven mystery, a young mother named Sandra Gilles simply vanishes one day, leaving her toddler daughter with a family friend for what she promises will just be an hour or two. Then, months later, her husband also disappears; Charlotte, the 3-year-old daughter, can say only that her Mummy went away and her Daddy went to look for her. Gemma and Duncan share mutual friends with Naz, Charlotte's father and a Pakistani-born lawyer, and are in on the case early, even before the first dead body shows up. From then on, they work together and separately to resolve the mystery and help create the best possible future for Charlotte, who, if they don't act, may end up living with her maternal grandmother despite the presence of two drug-dealing uncles and the fact that Sandra had no contact with her family.
The plot itself is complex but adeptly handled so that it never feels so; the characters are all plausible and the settings so vivid that I remain astonished that Crombie is an American and not a Londoner. There's nothing here to stretch the reader's credulity. Best of all, Crombie manages to blend the plot with the developments in Duncan's and Gemma's real lives (they are trying to find a way to marry that will keep everyone happy, as Gemma's mother must cope with a recurrence of her cancer -- disclosed very early on in the book, so not a spoiler!). There are no simple answers to either their personal challenges or to the mystery of what happened to Sandra or Naz, but Crombie ably walks the narrow line between giving away too many clues or emerging at the last moment with an improbable solution to the crime.
Highly recommended to anyone who likes character-driven mysteries. This isn't as elegantly written as P.D. James, or as complex as Elizabeth George's books, but anyone who relishes their characters should enjoy this series. It could be read as a stand-alone book, but there are frequent references throughout to events dealt with in previous episodes of the duo's personal and professional partnership, so I'd suggest starting your reading back with A Share in Death (Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James Novels), Crombie's debut, still in print more than 15 years later. Fans of the author will find this is one of the best of her recent books.
on November 15, 2011
A Share in Death marked the beginning of the best journey of my life. You are now invited to go on this journey which you will not forget. But you may already know, since this is her 13th novel.
I was able to go to places I had never been before and others I had, but even these had a new dimension thanks to the fourteen books in this series. They not only take you to typical places such as Notting Hill and Portobelllo, but also to many others, among them wondrous Glastonbury (I had heard a lot about it, and here e live in it.) Many places are surrounded by the Thames, a river that plays a prominent part in these books. We glide through it or under its bridges, always expecting the plot to thicken, and always relieved at the end, like the river and its current.
We follow the main characters through many happenings in their lives, which we, the readers, live along with them. They are all alive in such a way that we get to know them and appreciate their intelligence as well as their quirks. Even the secondary characters take a life of their own. Some reappear in the series, and we recognize them at once and appreciate the changes that are taking place in them as well as in the action.
In the midst of modern day life, there are flashbacks to the war, to the 60s, to the Holocaust. Everything is integrated in such a way that we understand its meaning and the reason for its mention. There are murders, of course, but there is also humor. The interest in the problems minorities face in the UK is apparent in some of the books too. In all, this is an exceptional experience in reading - and a decidedly unforgettable one for me.
Furthermore, what is most original and welcome in this series is that there is a team - not one, but two detectives, Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James. Even though Kinkaid takes the stage in the first books, Gemma gradually becomes equally important. And the children grow and take a new dimension in the plot. I always look forward to Toby's antics and strong personality!
I don't think I will ever get tired of reading Deborah Crombie's books again and again. If you want to join me in this journey, here is a list of her books in order: 1. A Share in Death; 2. All Shall Be Well; 3. Leave the Grave Green; 4. Mourn Not Your Dead; 5. Dreaming of the Bones; 6. Kissed a Sad Goodbye; 7. A Finer End; 8. And Justice There is None; 9. Now May You Weep; 10. In a Dark House; 11. Water Like a Stone; 12. Where Memories Lie; 13. Necessary as Blood; 14. No Mark Upon Her (available in the US in February 2012, but can be found im amazon.com now.)
on November 28, 2009
Since Duncan Kincaid's first appearance, I've waited anxiously for each new installment. Over the years Deborah Crombie has crafted an interesting, intelligent series -- but for me, something wandered off track here.
There is a good mystery at the heart of this story. Unfortunately, there are also elements of fairy tale that I'd rather not find in this genre.
For instance, the child who ends up central to the plot almost might have dropped straight from a Frances Hodgson Burnett narrative: abandonment, the threat of horrible caregivers, apparent salvation. Somehow, I already know that this child is going to feature heavily in the next book. It shouldn't be possible to see so far into a writer's future.
The young woman who works for Gemma turns out to have extraordinary resources for research, resources that turn out to be costly. She is a "poor little rich girl," a variation on the Burnett theme.
The grasping relatives are one dimensional, evil folk. The suffering mother turns out to be the real strength in a family. Gemma's friend, a therapist who is divorced or separated from her therapist husband, can't do divorce and joint custody with civility.
And Gemma's wardrobe and the effect of heat and hot car seats on her limbs are described over and over.
And Gemma turns out to have bought an extraordinarily beautiful dress just in time for... well, you know.
I've enjoyed this series. Perhaps it has run its course; perhaps the personal story lines have simply derailed it from mystery into romance. I'll give the next book a chance, but if the writer continues the series in this vein, it'll be back to re-reads of PD James and Ruth Rendell for me.
on November 19, 2011
For those that haven't read her, Deborah Crombie writes mysteries featuring a pair of London police detectives, Duncan Kincaid and Gemma Jones. "Necessary As Blood" is the thirteenth in the series, and is set exclusively in the Whitechapel and Spitalfields districts of London. I'd describe her books as a cross between a police procedural and a high quality soap opera. In the course of the previous volumes, Crombie has established a large supporting cast of fellow detectives, parents, friends, and children, most of whom appear in this latest episode. With other authors (Martha Grimes and Sue Grafton come to mind) I often rail against this practice because the characters make an appearance with no advancement in the plot. Crombie is one of the few who actually manages to weave these characters into the lives of Kincaid and Jones in such a way that you aren't left asking yourself the question, "Why did she put THAT in?" However, if one were to begin reading Crombie's latest without starting at the beginning, I think you would be missing some of the fun. The domestic issues that are dealt with in "Necessary As Blood" have their roots in previous books, though they're explained adequately for the new reader.
The mystery itself, involving disappearance of a female artist and, months later, the murder of her husband, is above average, with numerous red herrings tossed out as the investigation proceeds. As always, Crombie's sense of place is outstanding, with atmosphere evocative enough to make me envision my second favorite city, warts and all.
on July 11, 2013
Having purchased every one of the Kinkaid/Duncan series
I can vouch for them 100%. They are professional but
human people, with feelings and a personal life that
keeps you reading. I am on my second reading of
them, but this time in order of publication, which makes
it even more interesting to follow the lives of the characters.
Am donating them to a local Seniors Library, but keeping
this last set for myself. They are worth re-reading.
on March 24, 2014
Every time I end up reading faster and faster and longer and longer to find out what happened – not just who the guilty party is but what’s going on in the lives of Kincaid and James and the people around them.
Every book in this series is multi-layered with several plots running through each one and they overlap, interweave, and bounce off each other until somehow Crombie merges them into a whole with each plot playing a part in the others. This entry is no exception.
My only gripe about this book is when the main story started, it seemed as if it was taking place within days or weeks of the prolog. It wasn’t until several pages later that it became clear that the prolog occurred months earlier.
One of my comments on an earlier novel in the series suggested Crombie wrap up some ongoing story lines that I thought had stretched too long. Evidently, she heard me, for both are tied up in this entry.
I have the next two books in the series in my ‘to read’ pile and the urge to pick the next one up and dive into it is so strong, it’s almost overwhelming. That desire to read more is the sign of a good series.