Tuesday, 23 April 2013

A Share in Death by Deborah Crombie: Book review

Drink with this

Supermarket cabernet sauvignon

Red wine feels suitable for a night time tale of murder. This book does not warrant an expensive vintage but a cosy bottle of a cheap brand will be an appropriate accompaniment. Drink fast enough and that vinegary taste will all but disappear.

What’s what

As far as I’m concerned, books under 400 pages are a waste of time. Why bother growing attached to a beautifully developed world and characters you prefer to your actual friends and family when there is an abrupt end fast approaching? My ideal book would be the size of several bricks heaped together, or part of a series with at least three parts already published. I still think longingly of the days I had all 21 Master and Commander books lying in wait in my future.

I can’t remember how I came across Deborah Crombie - I believe that her latest novel had just come out and I discovered it was part of a detective series with a miraculous fifteen parts already published. As somebody who lies awake worrying about the day when I will finish reading all the awesome books published so far throughout history and have to read less awesome books or sit staring at my kindle, waiting for new ones to be published, this was a great boon.

Crombie’s writing has more in common with Agatha Christie murder mysteries than with most contemporary detective stories. The modern mystery-thriller is firmly grounded in the psychology of crime, and tends to focus less on whodunnit than why. Jo Nesbo, Tana French, Gillian Flynn and Sophie Hannah’s fiction all adhere to these tenets - exploring the minds of their criminals as their detectives attempt to decode the crimes. Crombie in this first book in her series seems disinterested in investigating the interior lives of any of her characters overmuch - their actions often are left without plausible explanation, or with lightly sketched motivation.

Her model is classic Christie in many ways - the characters, including Detective Duncan Kincaid, her hero, are all brought together prior to the murder and conveniently stuck together while he investigates at his own, fairly relaxed pace. There are titillating secrets revealed along the way, copious red herrings, attractive women put in danger and creepy ex-army personnel.

The lights glowed softly in the windows of Followdale House, as welcoming as death. Pg 67

This was a comfortable and narratively satisfying read, if rather lacking in depth. There is something quite naive about the story - the motive is rather old-fashioned and main characters Gemma and Duncan have none of the tortured complexity of a Harry Hole. I wonder how much Crombie’s approach has to do with the fact that she is an American writing about British life. In parts this did feel like a performance of some essential idea about the cosy English mystery mystery - Midsomer Murders in novel form.

There are a few predictable twists although I didn’t work out the murderer ahead of the Big Reveal. Perhaps in part because I was happy enough just to let the story wash over me; perhaps because it wasn’t really designed for the reader to work out ahead of time. Crombie’s detectives spend most of the novel quite perplexed and seem to have little thought-process for the reader to follow, or even inscrutable musings in the way of Holmes to indicate some internal deduction at work.

They smiled at each other companionably. “Better luck next time?” Gemma suggested. Kincaid raised his glass. “Cheers.” Pg 260

However, there are hints that things might get a bit more exciting as the series progresses and I will be coming back for more. If nothing else I want to work out Crombie’s schtick - most crime writers seem to have themes or tropes which recur compulsively throughout their work and this first instalment interested me enough to want to know what hers are.


On the cover above, esteemed publication the ‘Houston Chronicle’ damns with faint praise by describing A Share in Death as ‘A thoroughly enjoyable piece of entertainment.’ Far be it from me on disagree.

On the small screen

Not enough meat here yet for a tv series - the blood and sexual tension would need to be upped lest it be relegated to the depths of ITV3.


I don’t think genre fiction should automatically be considered lowbrow; but as detective fiction goes this is not particularly sophisticated.

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