This consistently engaging series features London police detectives Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James (now married to each other). The two of them juggle care for their blended family of three children with investigating murders.
This particular case is centered in Crystal Palace, a residential area in South London named after the landmark building housing the Great Exhibition of 1851. Because of the 1848 invention of the cast plate glass method, the structure featured the largest amount of glass ever seen in a building and thus was dubbed a “Crystal Palace.” Originally erected in Hyde Park, London, it was moved to South London in 1854, but burned to the ground in 1936. The neighborhood in South London kept the name however.
Historical notes about the original Crystal Palace are presented in epigraphs at the head of each chapter, and have some parallels to the action in each chapter, which takes place in the eponymous neighborhood.
As the story begins, Duncan is on parental leave doing childcare duties, and Gemma is filling an emergency vacancy as Acting Detective Chief Inspector for a South London murder investigation team. The first case that comes to her and her partner, Melody Talbot, is a dead barrister found in a seedy hotel in Crystal Palace, naked and tied up in what looks like a bondage situation gone bad. But shortly thereafter, another barrister turns up dead in the same way. Gemma and Melody track clues with the help of Duncan and Duncan’s partner, Doug Cullen, who is also temporarily off the job.
Crombie takes us back and forth in time as the investigation unfolds. One of the suspects is an attractive guitar player, Andy Monahan, whom Melody unfortunately finds attractive. Fifteen years earlier, as a lonely teenage broncin’ buck, Andy found relief from his cares by playing the guitar, having received a very nice one as a gift from his neighbor. You could hear him thinking years later….
“I can still remember how that music used to make me smile
And I knew if I had my chance
That I could make those people dance
And maybe they’d be happy for a while…”
Alas, the music didn’t die (as in “Bye, Bye, Miss American Pie”), but something else very bad happened, and the repercussions drive this story in the current day.
Complications and coincidences spice up the story as the tension builds, because it is a forgone conclusion that the killer isn’t finished.
Evaluation: Crombie is a solidly good writer, and her novels feature the perfect blend of character development and crime solving. In addition, she strikes an excellent balance between assuring us of the gruesomeness of a crime without horrifying us with too many lurid details.
Although this is the fifteenth book in the series, I haven’t read them all (regrettably), but had no trouble whatsoever picking up on the background of the series.
Published by William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2013